Not Walking, But Talking, Autism

Saturday was the annual Walk for Autism, sponsored by The Kelberman Center, a Utica based autism services organization. I was asked, as Mayor of Cooperstown, to welcome the crowd at Glimmerglass State Park, on the northern edge of Otsego Lake, far beyond Cooperstown‘s borders, but close enough. Plus, obviously, I have my own autism connection.

Nate wasn’t there. I think he has a love/hate relationship with autism (don’t we all!). He can check his speech with a “That was autistic, wasn’t it?” or laugh at the ramblings and sounds of cartoon characters and say, “That guy’s pretty autistic.” When I asked if he’d come to the autism walk he gave an emphatic, “No!” He was still sleeping when I left.

There was no way I was going to walk. I’ve got a lot of leg issues to deal with, but of course I could stand and say a few words. There was a pretty good turnout on a gray cold day, the norm around here. (Will it ever end?). I was happy to meet Rob Myers, the Executive Director of the Kelberman. We’d been trying to connect and, after many failed phone attempts, kinda gave up. We talked a long time about Nate, our family efforts to create a career for Nate around his art, and, in general, what to do when autistic kids are no longer kids. Rob and his wife Beth, herself Director of Special Projects, knew Karen from when she helped create an autism classroom in Cooperstown.

Rob and I talked long enough that we lost track of the 10:30 start time. Hurriedly we dashed out to kick off the event. Rob did an intro and explanation and turned it over to me. I rarely prepare remarks; I give things a lot of thought and then, when it’s time to talk, let ‘er rip. What I realized at the moment I was handed the mike was that I couldn’t be simply the Mayor, giving some generic hello. I had to share our story, at least a little.

After the obligatory thanks and welcomes, I talked about our family’s experience with Nate’s autism, where we were and where we are now. It was a very condensed version of this blog itself, an attempt to give the many parents in the crowd, most with young children, a little bit of hope that there is a future, regardless of what it might be.

When I was finished, and the walkers set out, one of the organizers came up to me. “That was really great what you said.” I was glad to hear it. I’m a pretty private person, but when it comes to our Nate story I feel compelled to share. Once Karen and I were lost and could’ve used a story, any story, to give us a glimpse of a less than bleak future. Hopefully, on a dreary day, I was able to give some parents a slight break in the clouds.

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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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