Treasure Trove

I mentioned last post that Phyllis handed me a manila envelope stuffed with Nate history. I read through it a few days ago and, I have to admit, it was a very emotional hour.  Progress reports, session notes, test results and, best of all, some of Nate’s own work. I was overwhelmed when I saw story panels and captions from a program he loved called Story Weaver.

 I’m not going to go through everything, although each piece of paper is worth a blog post of its own. There are two things that you need to hear about right now.

Hyperlexic kids have tremendous difficulty with “Wh-” questions. You can add “how” questions, to the troubling and somewhat vague “who,” “what,” “where,” “when” and “why” questions. On April 8, 1998, Nate was nearing eight years old and Phyllis asked him questions, and wrote his answers. He did pretty well on “who” and “where” queries, with 8 of 10 correct. A bit worse on  “what” (6 of 10) and “when” (7 of 10). “Why” and “how,” well, those were always toughest. Think about those words – “why” and “how.” They have no specificity at all. “Who,” “what,” “where” and “when” are much friendlier by comparison; they at least give a clue. Nate got zero right. Here’s where he was at that time:

Why do you take a bath? Answer: in the little tub.

How would I make a sandwich? Answer: at home.

How do people win money on T.V.? Answer: no time.

I had forgotten that Nate used to say “no time” when he meant “I don’t know.”

Nate’s first attempt to communicate with someone outside his circle came after he’d just turned 12. He was deep into the craft books of Kathy Ross. Every day during the summer of 2002, he would hand Karen a list of supplies he needed for the crafts he wanted to make when he returned from his day at Discovery Day Camp, in nearby Indian Creek.

On September 17, we sat at the computer in our finished basement and, to our surprise, was an email from Kathy Ross herself. She was unclear on what the email she’d received had meant. It turned out Nate had written her after finding her email address either in a book or online. Here’s a snippet:

On September 2002, my mom told me to mail Crafts for Thanksgiving, but it was published in September 1995. That night, I went to bed, and then I said, “Boy, I can’t wait to get my book, Crafts for Thanksgiving.

He went on with a list of crafts in the books he had and all the different holiday books Ross had written. It was remarkable to us. He reached out to someone! Karen replied to Ms. Ross and explained who Nate was and how much her books meant to him.

Yesterday, I sat at my computer and Internet Explorer was open to the SUNY-Cobleskill page with information on fall arrival.

“Were you looking at this?” I asked Karen.

“No, Nate was,” she said.

Eight years ago he emailed Kathy Ross and was virtually unintelligible. Sure, that’s 40% of his life ago, but it’s a pretty short time period. And now he’s almost 20, and he sits at the computer and checks on his fall semester schedule for his sophomore year of college.

And, you know, I don’t even care about the “hows” and “whys” of it.

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About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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2 Responses to Treasure Trove

  1. SG says:

    So did Nate figure out How & Why questions eventually? Can you help me understand what programs or activities did you do to teach him?

    • Nate had speech therapy at school, but, more importantly, was fortunate to go to The Center for Speeh and Language Disorders in Elmhurst, IL. They are the experts in hyperlexia and the intense sessions, which we replcated at home, helped him enormously. He did an extensive auditory program called Fast Foreword when he was 7, and that hepled him a great deal. As he grew older, he got better at the How and Why stuff; we certainly were all over him every day to improve. That’s not to say he doesn’t get mixed up still, but he’s pretty good at answering.

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