“Have you an umbrella in your house?” “I think so.” “I wish you would bring it out here, and walk up and down with it, and look up at me every now and then, and say ‘Tut-tut, it looks like rain.’ I think, if you did that, it would help the deception which we are practising on these bees.”
One of the unexpected delights of parenthood is revisiting the prose of A. A. Milne, and imagining all of the animal denizens of the Hundred-Acre Wood standing in water with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads.
First, I don’t know who Tom Scocca is, nor at this point will it help me to know.
The personal and moving excerpt from Patricia Gilman’s memoir I wrote about last week is, according to Scocca in his Slate column, a sensationalistic ploy by Tina Brown to terrorize parents of bright children in the pages of “Tina Brown’s Newsweek.”
The Newsweek piece is a sneaky selection, because it has been put together to minimize the apparently quite real and serious problems that Benjamin exhibited (and that the full memoir seems to deal with), in favor of dwelling on the frightening paradox of his precociousness.
The number of lazy, uninformed fallacies Scocca employs in his piece is shocking. I took my own cheap shots at his piece in the comments:
It is striking that you seem willing to declare yourself an expert on hyperlexia from reading some articles on the internet, seeing as how most pediatricians know little about it themselves.
But then I note you also consider yourself an expert on how Gilman’s son’s quirks presented themselves by reading a paragraph review of the book in Publisher’s Weekly.
And also qualified to assert that a clinical term used by speech and language pathologists (context-appropriate delayed echolalia) is a bemusing fiction.
Nothing in the Newsweek excerpt read to me as sensationalized or alarmist. Most of your piece reads to me as both.
I am the father of a hyperlexic son. Gilman’s story so far seems extremely familiar.
What excites me about her book reaching a national audience is the potential for hyperlexia to be better understood, and for yes, more parents to recognize that the precociousness of which they are so proud could be a sign of challenges ahead. Yes, it seems like a paradox, that a smart, reading kid could be experiencing language delays. But Gilman’s son (and ours) have to live with that paradox every day of their lives.
Further reading on the internet about hyperlexia could have also told you that early speech and language intervention can have a huge, positive impact with hyperlexic kids.
Many public school districts will perform free assessments of children starting at the age of three, and can offer free preschool classes aimed at helping children with language challenges.
In addition to advanced reading, early signs of hyperlexia can include the reversal of pronouns (I vs. you), a delay in asking the questions most two-year-olds ask, and yes, repetition of stories, songs, and snippets of dialogue from videos (i.e. delayed echolalia).
This is not an epidemic, but it’s no joke. With luck some parents of these kids will take something positive from this excerpt or Gilman’s memoir and get help, instead of using your snide dismissals as a further excuse to remain in their “my kid is too smart, it’s the school that’s to blame” cocoon.
Which seems at the heart what Gilman’s getting at. Getting over ourselves as parents.
For example, I always pictured myself as being above needing to respond to any assclown with a blog who wrote something that felt like an attack on my kid.
Gilman reacts defensively at first when her son is rejected from a high-end preschool, before she understands that precociousness and special needs are not mutually exclusive.
How could that woman, that school—one that prided itself on a joyful, progressive approach to learning—not see Benj for the amazing, original, bright little boy he was? According to my husband, Richard, at the screening 2½-year-old Benj had in fact taken the magnetic letters and spelled out “Benjamin,” “flapjack,” and “Friday.” He’d then arranged the numbers in sequence from one to 10, calling out each one in an excited voice while beaming up into the teacher’s face. So what if he didn’t say “hello” or respond to the teacher’s offer of crayons? Sharing his enthusiasm about the alphabet and numbers was his way of being friendly.
I acknowledge some people might find the “I grew so much personally from parenting a special needs child.” meta-narrative too self-indulgent to stomach. And admittedly the familiarity of her son’s challenges predisposes me to be interested—as our family has learned through blogging, it matters to find other families experiencing the same thing you are.
But it seems Gilman’s book is about the larger issue of calling yourself on your own parenting fantasies, and accepting the grief that comes when you realize that your children are who they are.
Most parents reach that point when their children reach adulthood. Special needs parents have the moment handed to them early on.
So I don’t know whether I’ll get to teach my kid to throw or hit a baseball, or to draw his own comics, or build cities with Legos, or to stay up way past bedtime playing Hearts and Gin Rummy. I don’t know when this 1st grader with a 5th-grade reading ability will let me read to him a book past the end of Chapter Two. I don’t know when he will eat enough kinds of foods that we could all go camping for a week, or on a trip outside the country. I don’t know when I’ll feel confident he’ll stop each time he runs into the street. So yes, a good part of raising this AWESOME kid is feeling frustrated, anxious, and sad.
But we do get to cuddle, and laugh, and act out grand adventures, and quote Looney Tunes lines² to each other, and sing “The Book Report” from You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown loudly ’til we get the rhythm wrong and have to start again.
Most children’s music performers (even the good ones) can come off as amplified preschool instructors, or antic clowns.
In concert Morgan is one of the least assuming performers I’ve seen in any genre, as he spins his quiet stories. His on-stage partner is a MacBook running Keynote, which projects videos (complete with backing musical tracks) to accompany each song.
Each song is a story featuring Gustafer Yellowgold, an alien who left his home on the sun, and now lives in a small house in the Minnesota woods with his friends (a purple eel, a fashion-obsessed pterodactyl). Each video is gently animated in a hand-illustrated storybook style, complete with on-screen lyrics.
The videos are such an integral part of his work that each of his four “albums” sells as a dual CD/DVD.
As a medium it’s difficult to describe, but Morgan’s combined music/storytelling/drawing hooks a lot of people (of all ages) who’ve checked it out. He and his projector have opened for Wilco and the Polyphonic Spree.
The boy became attached at first because of the on-screen text (like crack for hyperlexics). Later he came to love Sing-A-Long mode on the DVD, in which the vocals are removed. Back in 2008 he asked to be Gustafer on Halloween.
As parents we came to love Morgan’s melodic pop, and to be charmed by his quirky sensibility.
The music isn’t hyper, or wacky, or hilarious, or sung in the second person. It’s… droll.
I adore that it’s droll. I love that his songs and drawings are handcrafted by someone who clearly wouldn’t know what else to do with himself.
Morgan/Gustafer’s new tour is leaving NY this week and will be here in the Bay Area in late May. The concerts are gentle enough for kids as young as two, but Morgan sometimes thinks third grade is the ideal age (by then kids can read all the on-screen text).
Apparently every copy of Atari’s Greatest Hits comes with a Ricardo Montalban android, who starts off all smiling and gracious and welcoming, but who then just follows you around, squinting at you grimly through windows and doorways.
So SICK of this guy.
Although I’ll admit he’s less annoying than this Hervé Villechaize android, who won’t stop hitting on my wife.