Last week we were visited by a dad and his son. Their family had recently relocated to Cooperstown and, through ways I can’t remember, were directed to Karen. Why? Their 3 ½ year old son was recently diagnosed with hyperlexia and we all know the Katz’ are the go-to family in these matters.
Upon their arrival, Karen and I were both struck by how much eye contact this little boy made. He didn’t seem to fit the Nate mold at all; Nate almost never looked at us at that age. We all know that every story is different, that each kid has his own ways of showing their symptoms, and soon enough we could see it – the inability to communicate, the talking to himself, the writing with his finger in the air, the recitations (in his case the alphabet), and so on. Yup, he was one!
As we tend to do, we revealed our own experience with Nate – how we finally had him diagnosed at the same age after being failed by our pediatrician, how we learned to become amateur speech therapists, how we became his staunchest advocates. Here was a father at the very beginnings of a long journey and we were throwing at him two decades worth of guidance. I think it was overwhelming.
While we were all talking, Karen was demonstrating some of the techniques we’d learned so long ago, especially writing down words, sentences and questions so the boy could see what he needed to say. And he got it, fast. When he broke a little frame holder, Karen wrote “Oops! It broke.” He repeated the phrase over and over again, his comprehension of it locked in when he found a little green candle and dropped it on the floor.
“Oops! It broke,” he squeaked. It became a game that morphed into another game.
Karen took the candle and wrote, “I want the candle” and began to slowly explain. She read each word, pointing with her pencil, and holding the candle until he said it. He couldn’t do it. He lunged for the object, would say “candle,” which wasn’t enough to award him the prize, and he was getting increasingly frustrated. I walked into the kitchen to see what Nate was up to.
“I….want…the….candle.” I heard it from the other room. It was unbelievable. Karen had gotten through to him. I headed back in to watch.
“Does daddy want the candle?” Karen asked the boy.
“I want the candle,” the dad said and his son gave it to him. And round and round it went.
All of this took place in the span of an hour visit. It was remarkable and, with Nate having turned 24 a few days earlier, a stark reminder of how far we’d come. It doesn’t seem so long ago that we were doing the same thing, writing directions to Nate on always present pads, words that he struggled to adopt but, when he did, it opened his mind and gave us the freedom to hope, and move forward, towards where we are today.