It was the first day of summer theater camp and many of my 3rd – 6th grade regulars had already arrived and were spending the last few minutes before our day started laughing and joking and catching up with each other on what they had been up to since our most recent show had closed that spring. There were also a few kids I had met before but were new to the program, and a few that I had never met at all. They looked curiously about them and wandered around the studio. I had pretty much identified everybody and given out name tags and was waiting for one more new student.
I saw him come in with his mom. He was a little guy, small for his age, and he looked as if this was the last place in the world he wanted to be. But his mom led him to the edge of the playing space, and he sat https://www.haytheatre.com/ . down amid the cacophony of the kids and just plain looked uncomfortable. I smiled at him and at his mom, and went over to shake his hand. “This is Steven,” his mom told me. “He is a little uncomfortable in new situations. It helps him if you can hook him up with a buddy who can kind of show him the ropes.”
This made perfect sense to me and I made a mental note to make sure I introduced him to Michael, one of my regulars who is the kind of kid who can be counted on to be a friend to everybody. Steven’s mom looked around the room at the other children, and then looked back at her son who was still sitting quietly and looking unhappy. She told me only that he had trouble sometimes in large groups and that he liked to watch the other kids to see what was expected of him. Then she said good-by to her boy, and left for the day.
Ok, I had a sense there was something pretty interesting about this guy. For one thing he was still looking like he would rather be anywhere else in the world than in my studio classroom, and this was unusual. The vast majority of kids who entered the room took one look at the comfortable couches and big colored pillows, and the large platform stage, the lights, the props and costumes everywhere and felt like they had arrived. For a kid interested in acting, this was a perfect place to settle in and get comfortable.
As the day progressed I discovered that Steven was a very interesting guy indeed. When I asked a question of the group he would raise his hand to answer, and if I called on him he would look at me blankly. He had no idea even what the question was, much less any idea how to answer it. He laughed when the other kids laughed, but seemed to have no idea what on earth everybody found so funny. Before I could partner him with Michael, Steven made a choice on his own, and probably the worst choice he could have possibly made. He chose for his class mentor the most beautiful and most completely disdainful girl in the group who, when he agreed with everything she said and announced she was his girlfriend, look at him like he was a slug on a cabbage leaf.
The only place Steven was able to shine that morning was on the playground where he proved to be the most amazing kickball player the theater company had ever seen. Truthfully this was not saying much, as our theater company was not known for its athletic prowess, but it was a wonder to see this awkward and clearly very confused child become a graceful athlete, catching balls and pitching beautiful and making home runs with ease. There was the few times he was distracted by a plane flying overhead, but he also amazed me at those moments, as he knew exactly what kind of plane he was looking at and could tell me all manner of details about the plane, down to the model numbers.
And this boy could sing. The project we were working on was a musical that summer, and though the child couldn’t answer a question to save his life, he always knew what page we were on in the libretto and could sing like an angel.
I couldn’t wait to talk to his mom at the end of the day.
When she arrived I met her at the door, asking my assistant to keep watch over the rest of the waiting kids. I asked her if she had a minute and if I could speak to her privately. We moved outside of the door to the studio, and I said, “Can you tell me a little about Steven?”
Her eyes filled with tears. She explained to me that she was sorry, and that she had hoped that in this world her little son would have a chance to be “just another kid.” That she had hoped she had found a place for him finally to fit in, and to find a measure of independent success. And then she explained to me that her Steven had a non-verbal learning disability.
The name non-verbal learning disorder is misleading as individuals with this disability are usually highly verbal and that their areas of deficit are in the nonverbal domains. This means that while the child’s language skills will seem advanced and his vocabulary may even be exceptional, the areas of concept formation and abstract reasoning are quite impaired. The child may have a great.