Birds of a Feather

What is it about autistic kids that they gravitate toward Nate? We’ve seen it time and time again, where a much younger child automatically hones in on Nate.

It may be that wherever he goes, Nate plops himself down and immediately gets to setting out a series of papers and drawings, and they quickly connect to his obsessive and orderly mind.

“Ah,” they think. “This very large person is really just like me.”

We have friends whose eldest child is autistic. Once verbal, now not, he is behaviorally reminiscent of early Nate. When we were at their house for dinner, he went for Nate, teasing him with sneaky assaults on Nate’s territory. Nate was agitated, but not so much that he lost it. He presented a humorously frustrated front, with many “Hey, get away from my stuff!” exhortations.

The younger boy would come in and out of the picture, always coming back to Nate. He would giggle at the game he developed with the giant boy who let him play along. At one point, Nate even let his friendly nemesis rest his head on Nate’s back. It was very sweet. Nate seemed to feel a connection as well.

But it doesn’t always revolve around Nate’s compulsive displays that signal kinship with his fellow travelers. Just this past week, Elise told us about something that happened in Nate’s Web Design class.

Nate’s professor has a hyperlexic boy of his own and must wishfully marvel at Nate’s progress as a college student. That’s one of the main points of writing Mission of Complex, to have parents know there’s a future for their kids, and quite possibly a very optimistic one. Elise has told him about the blog; I hope he’s a reader. Since it was the last week of school, Nate’s prof brought his son in and, of course, the lad headed straight for Nate.

Now Nate was, I assume, outwardly the same as any other student, but he stood out to this boy. He watched Nate work, even putting his hand on Nate’s shoulder at one point.

So, what is it? Is there a secret aura that magnetically brings these kids together? Does Nate, merely at first glance, intuitively resonate with younger versions of himself? Or is it this, as eloquently put by our friend’s seven-year old daughter: “Nate is like a little boy, all grown up.” He’s one of them, and they know 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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