My Boy, so far ….

May 25, 1988 is one of my favorite days.  That’s the day my son was born.

He had a traumatic birth.  Hours of labor.  They wheeled in the neonatal resuscitation unit. Teams of doctors and nurses assembled.  They assumed the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck.  With each contraction, his heart rate plummeted.  It was touch-and-go.

Then suddenly, there he was.  No cord.  He had placed his hand against his head and it restricted his descent into the birth canal.  His head was a bit cone-shaped and it had a noticeable handprint on the side, but he was alive and breathing.  Moments later, he was whisked off to be cleaned up.  Under the heat lamp, as they wiped him down and took his APGAR numbers, the nurse turned to me and said reassuringly, “He’s perfect.”

That’s how my boy entered the world.  A bit of upheaval, but perfect.

Early on in his development we realized that he was exceptionally bright.  I think our first clue was when he was riding in his car seat and suddenly recited the entire book “Hop on Pop” — front to back, verbatim, by memory.

I think he was three.

But there were also clues that something was amiss.  We went to doctors; several of them.  James was misdiagnosed a multiplicity of ways.  It was during his testing at Vanderbilt that I first heard the term “hyperlexic.”  He could read way beyond his ability to comprehend.  He was affected by noise, the feel of fabric against his skin, and any — I mean ANY — worrisome news.  He slept rolled up in his blankets, wedged between his mattress and the wall.  His syntax was odd.  I became his interpreter.

And he trusted everyone.  He couldn’t imagine that anyone would be mean. So, school was a rude awakening.  He was bullied mercilessly.

We finally found a therapist who understood what was going on.  She said he was autistic.  “Asperger’s Syndrome,” to be exact.  I read up.  It was like someone had been peeking through our windows and describing my son.  I was relieved to know what we were dealing with.  But, the trouble at school continued unabated.

I remember a teacher who told us that James was “learning disabled.”  He ended up on a “special eduction” track that would have led to a Special Ed degree.  Maybe he could attend a technical school to learn a trade.  Maybe not.

Here’s the rub: In fourth grade, my boy received the highest math TCAP score in the history of the school.  By eighth grade, he was failing remedial math.  Something (if you don’t mind the pun) didn’t add up.

For lack of knowing what else to do, the school assigned him to a “behavioral modification” classroom.  He was there for months.  One night, he said to me, “I must be the worst kid in school.”  Why?  “Because all the worst trouble makers are sent to the behavior mod class.  Then they straighten up and go back to class.  I never get to go back.  I must be that bad.”


He wasn’t being educated.  He was being warehoused.  Teachers had him on a pass/fail system so that he advanced grades, but was falling further behind.  But, once he moved to the local high school for ninth grade, the environment became hostile.  The bullying increased.  He was fearful daily.  He was my hero.  Every day he marched bravely toward a world that made no sense to him.  Like an alien anthropologist, he studied and adopted the behaviors and customs of a foreign culture so he could fit in, or go undetected.  We argued with the school board, the teachers, the principals.  Minor accommodations were made, but nothing really helpful.  Since he didn’t really fit with the more pervasively disabled children, he was assigned to the RISE room.

Think: punitive, windowless, brick closet.

One day, I had had enough.  The on-site cop had pushed my son against a locker, threatened him, and paraded him through the hallways, crying.  He was mortified.  When I arrived, I sought out the principal and confronted the offender.  The cop told me that he saw James in the RISE room everyday and assumed he was a bad kid.  I explained that he had just man-handled a special needs child.  I knew what had to be done.

I requested a meeting with the school board president, his teachers, the principal and lawyers from Tennessee Voices For Children.  I read the state statutes to them regarding “hostile environment” and listed the several ways that they had abused my son’s civil rights.  They quickly cobbled together “the IEP of life” and offered me everything I had been requesting for years.  I wanted that on his record, just in case.

After they all finished signing it, I stood up and said, “You’ll never see him again.”  As we walked out the door, the principal stopped me and asked brusquely, “Mr. McClarty, do you think you son can get an adequate education at home?”

I didn’t hesitate, replying, “If he only gets an ‘adequate’ education at home, that’s more than he’s getting here.”

And that was the beginning of our homeschool journey.

We went back to eighth grade.  We started over in many ways.  We bought computer programs, joined an umbrella school (thank you, Aaron Academy), and we plowed through it.  It wasn’t always easy, but James graduated with a solid “B” average.  Not bad for a “learning disabled” boy.

But wait … it gets better.

One symptom of Asperger’s Syndrome is something called “pervasive childishness.”  In other words, it took James a bit longer to mature than kids who don’t share his diagnosis.

But, eventually we decided he was ready for college.  I was scared about leaving him in a classroom environment, again.  Would he fit in?  Would he embarrass himself?  Would he be bullied?  I sat in the hallway of our local college and waited until the first class was over.  And he did wonderfully.  He thrived.  Eventually, he was answering math questions for other students.  He wrote papers, he did labs, and he got “A’s.”  Lots and lots of A’s.

And he got his two-year, associate degree.

But, wait … it gets better.

James decided that he wanted to be a computer programmer, specializing in game development.  He needed a four-year degree.  So, he continued his studies.  He’s been taking online courses via Baker College in Michigan.  He didn’t tell his professors that he was autistic.  He wanted to compete with the best students on a level playing field.  He didn’t want special treatment.  He wanted to show his stuff.

And he did.  This week my son received his degree.  Summa Cum Laude.

Not bad.  Not just for an autistic kid.  But, for any kid.

All that to say that I couldn’t be more proud.

My boy, my “perfect” boy, is a man.

And I think I can answer that principal now.  Yes.  Yes, indeed.  My boy can receive a more-than-adequate education from home.

But, the real credit belongs solely to him.  He worked hard and applied himself.

I cannot wait to see what he does with the rest of his life.

10 thoughts on “My Boy, so far ….

    1. Danielle Voiculescu

      Absolutely wonderful. Thanks for sharing and congratulations to you and especially your son for all his accomplishments that God blessed him to obtain.

  1. Carla Hays

    I just don’t know what to say to this. Loved every word you wrote about this amazing son of yours – what a testament to God’s guiding of your footsteps as you raised this boy. Congratulations, James! I can’t wait to see what doors this opens for you.

  2. Wilma Inman

    Oh my goodness! I remember doing some testing for James while he was homeschooling! I’m so excited to see this news though, I’m not terribly surprised to see it. You fought for him and wanted him to succeed on a “normal” playing field. You believed in him all along and that mattered to him. Congrats to both of you!

  3. Nathan Murton

    Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose

    Wonderful news, Jim and James! Congratulations!

    What great faithfulness our God has! This truly speaks to the verse I quoted. Through all the trials He presents to us, it is so difficult to see Romans 8:28. And many (maybe even a very high percentage) will never see in this life what that “good” is. As the two of you have witnessed in this particular context have clearly seen it.

    I rejoice in our Lord for you both!


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