I asked Cindy if we had seen it, or something like it, before. Yes, she said, we sure had. So had Nolan.
There’s a good chance that’s why he had completed only one problem on his math assignment, which consisted of four very simple subtraction problems. They were the type of equations his neurotypical classmates had started solving in first grade. Nolan also had gotten a very small taste of math at that time, and it seemed to me like he has a basic understanding of it. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to master long division by fifth grade, or maybe ever, but that was fine. With time, the number of digits in the addition and subtraction problems would increase. Why, I could see Nolan eventually solving an equation that took up half a whiteboard.
We didn’t start seeing the work Nolan did during a typical day until he reached middle school two years ago. His daily folder usually was filled with papers, including math assignments. The assignments in sixth grade? Simple addition and subtraction. Seventh grade? Simple addition and subtraction. Eighth grade? Two-digit by two-digit multiplication. Nope, just more of the same basic stuff. I just had to type something different to break up the monotony.
One of Nolan’s paraprofessionals told me earlier this month he didn’t want to work for her that day, which I believe also was the day this particular assignment came home. I can’t blame the kid for being sick of the same-old, same-old.
To be fair, Nolan needs a substantially modified curriculum. I don’t pretend to believe he is anywhere near the academic level of his neurotypical eighth-grade classmates – he obviously isn’t. I looked at the weekly update one of the teachers at his middle school emails to parents. The kids are learning about the Salem Witch Trials, eclipses and gravity – topics that no one would expect a boy with severe nonverbal Autism to even begin to comprehend.
But I have told, and will continue to tell, everyone who comes in contact with Nolan that my son is an intelligent young man.
I know it’s difficult for a lot of people to look beyond what they see when they encounter Nolan. There are times they see a boy who yells, flaps, cries for seemingly no reason, or suddenly lashes out at me and/or Cindy and a WWE match breaks out wherever we are. We’ve reached a point where neither of us really gives a damn what people think, but sometimes we can’t help but get pissed. We had our picture taken for the church directory earlier this month. We told the photographer Nolan had Autism. He nodded as if he understood – spoiler alert: he didn’t – then proceeded to take out a stuffed duck, place it on his head and talk to Nolan as if he were a baby. I wanted to stuff that duck somewhere in that guy’s body that even the most skilled surgeon couldn’t extract. Then I remembered where I was, and where I would end up if I broke one of the Ten Commandments.
God has given us a tremendous responsibility raising a son with Autism. I’d like to think we’ve done a halfway decent job of it. But there is always guilt that we – especially I – could have done so much more to help him academically.
I still remember watching Nolan correctly answer some of the addition problems in a math packet that came home over Christmas break when he was in first grade. So did Cindy, and so did one of the therapists who worked with him at the time. I excitedly told his special education teacher at the time what he had done. I got a ‘sure, Kirk’ vibe from her. She and the paraprofessionals might have tried doing some math with him, but I don’t think it lasted very long. We had many similar moments of frustration the entire time Nolan was in grade school.
And now here we are, less than one year away from him being a high school freshman. Thankfully, he’s come a long way since sixth grade in terms of academics and attending to his work. I think he’s going to be working with teachers and paraprofessionals in high school who will really push him. I’d like to think they’re going to see what he’s really capable of.
Just for the heck of it, I had him do a couple of the math problems he didn’t finish, including the one in the picture. Yes, he added when he should have subtracted, but he got the right answer – 20 plus 10 is indeed 30 – without my help. I sincerely believe he knows what he’s doing by now, and he’s ready to see new challenges.