Adam’s problems began at six. No matter how hard the teachers pushed him, no matter how many specialists studied him, no matter how much his mother tried, he could not learn to read or write.
He spoke, although in cryptic words, uncommon for his age. He liked to keep his black hair long, the front partially covering his big green eyes. It protected him from what he perceived to be a hostile environment. The teacher gave up protecting him from the constant bullies.
It got so bad that the principal convinced Adam’s mother to move him to a special school where he would be served better, “The right place for Adam,” as he put it so diplomatically. Instead of the dull classroom where he had spent the past semester, Adam was now in a place with kids who drooled, wet themselves, and stared into the walls as if they could see through them and behold some magical land beyond.
There were other kinds of kids too, more mobile. Eva, for example, she would not stay put. She yelled, jumped, laughed, and drove everybody crazy, especially him. Her red hair was puffed as if she had just been administered an electroshock treatment–which happened weekly.
Like never before, Adam now had an assortment of toys at his disposal. His mother was poor, so his only entertainment had been a soccer ball he kicked around, but nobody with whom to play soccer. Among the toys were Lego sets, simple, safe chemical experiment kits, and computer tablets where he could draw with a soft-tipped plastic stylus.
In the multicolored alphabet book that the teachers dropped on his lap daily, he could not find anything of interest. He had been able to read and write since age three but had found the books he had been given so uninteresting that his brain shut down when forced to read them.
His first creation was a ten-Lego-set sculpture of two spheres made of spikes coming out of their centers. They were joined by a long tube. Both spheres were, in turn, on top of high towers, like twin astronomical observatories.
The teachers let him explore his building activities, hopeful that Adam was integrating–even though there had been no meaningful contact between him and the other kids.
One day, Adam wrote something on a tablet. Gibberish, one teacher said to the other: meaningless, nonsensical glyphs. Nevertheless, the teachers told Adam’s mother it was a clear sign that at long last, he was becoming interested in some form of writing.
“Gotta keep moving! Can’t stay still! The goblins are gonna catch me! Gaaah!”
“Quiet Eva, please!” one teacher said as she tried to grab the bouncing girl. But she would not have it and began walking backward, her crazy eyes fixed on the teacher–until she tripped over Adam’s twin observatories, sending entire sections of the beautiful assembly flying in all directions.
Eva sat up, looked at Adam’s shocked face, and began to laugh. Then she kissed the now screaming boy on the mouth and, laughing frantically, got up and ran out to the courtyard.
Parents’ visitation day in a special needs school can be sad or happy, or even exciting. On rare occasions, all three. When Rex Tillmore, the father of a boy who could not sit up straight and drooled constantly saw his child’s stupid smile as the teacher called out his name so that he would show off his pathetic drawings of stick figures, he felt sad. When his son looked at him with a face full of innocence and love, he felt happy. And when Rex Tillmore saw Adam’s sculptures–by now, numbering in the dozens–and even more important, what he had scribbled in his tablet, he was interested, as any scientist would.
Especially, NASA’s top scientist.
Rex Tillmore could not wait for the presentations to be over. As soon as the girl in the wheelchair showed her new doll dress to her parents, he went to look for Adam. Rex Tillmore was sure that the kid who had crafted those 3D models was autistic; Rex Tillmore was sure that the kid who had penned down those formulae, which he could barely understand, was the next Einstein–to the power of three.
Adam’s mother was engaged in discussion with Eva’s parents, while the principal was trying to keep the peace. The unruly girl had just laid waste to Adam’s latest work, a tunnel-like structure with a plastic sphere that looked like the Earth at one end, and another, smaller one that seemed to represent some extrasolar planet. That hapless world had just been flattened by Eva’s foot.
Rex Tillmore approached the warring factions flashing his government pass, which caused eyes and mouths to open wide–effectively crushing the conflict like Eva had crushed Adam’s extrasolar world. He took Adam’s mother aside.
“Madam, I can offer your son the best possible future for a boy with his… …abilities. He will be allowed to explore his gifts, and he will be provided every opportunity to achieve his full potential. You will be with him, of course, living in fully paid government communities for families with special children.”
Adam was yelling now because, by the time the two teachers managed to pry Eva away from him, he had lost a sizable chunk of hair.
Adam’s mother glanced at her son with tears in her eyes, then back at the mysterious government man.
And she smiled.