Seems Like Old Times

Precocious reading skills are the signifying trait of a hyperlexic. Nate could read anything early on; at 3 he pulled a medical encyclopedia from our bookshelves and decoded obscure terms. It seemed to us that reading was his strength. Yes and no. He could decipher anything, but his comprehension was weak. It wasn’t until later, when I sat to read aloud with him, that I realized what a poor reader he was: mispronouncing, skipping words, spacing out and losing focus. From then on, either Karen or I would read with him. This was true through high school, when he and I would huddle on the couch to read The Old Man and The Sea (try explaining Christ symbolism to an autistic kid! I did.) and Shakespeare.

And it’s still true today. Nate has a Children’s Lit course at SUNY-Cobleskill and he chose to read Johnny Tremain. I grabbed a yellow legal pad, a pen, and the book and Nate and I began a 20 page per day assault on a classic. It’s important to Nate to know just how long he’ll have to suffer the burden of reading, so we do some quick math to make the day’s installment palatable, while keeping an eye on a reasonable amount of time to finish up. The pad is for taking notes for Nate to review later on, and to make Nate do some reading while I write.

After two days with me, he turned to Karen as a reading partner. She’d read the book in fifth grade; I hadn’t. We both quiz Nate on what he’s read and Karen can test him better than I can since she knows what’s coming and can ask him for some predictions. After yesterday’s session, she bragged a bit to me how, when you think Nate isn’t listening, he responds with an appropriate “Oh, no!” or spurts out an answer that seems out of nowhere but is entirely relevant. It’s true. He’s always been a difficult puzzle to solve and his surprising abilities are what keep us pushing for more and more.

To prove her point, Karen asked Nate about the section they’d just read. Nate was empty. He knew absolutely zero and responded with growls and grumbles. He did, however, run back to look at his notes for answers.

“Nate, what did Johnny spend his money on?” Karen asked.

“Silver coins,” he answered.

“No, he had silver coins. What did he buy with them?”

He stalled and I, sad to admit teased him with purchases that Nate himself makes.

“Ink?” I offered. Nate buys a ton of computer ink for his printer.

“No!”

Karen joined in. “Paper?” Nate buys tons of copy paper for his printer.

I think he got confused for a second, because he said “Tape?” Nate buys tons of tape which he uses as a pseudo-laminate for his precious documents.

“No, wait a minute,” he said softly.

We always laugh when things get ridiculous and this became pretty silly.

He’s back to class today and we’ll read when he gets home. It’s true Nate listens often, and reads better, but understanding is still difficult. It’s a good thing he’s got computer skills.

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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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