When Wendy Hoyle calls the eldest of her three children a “walking miracle,” she isn’t exaggerating.
Jonathan Hoyle of Warrenville had to overcome an imposing series of health issues and disorders to get to where he is today.
The 17-year-old home-schooled student is headed to USC Aiken, where he will begin studying computer science and mathematics later this year. He has earned three scholarships and achieved a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT. His other academic accomplishments include memberships in the National Society of High School Scholars, Eta Sigma Apha (the national honor society for home-schooled students), and Mu Eta Sigma (the national math honor society for home-schooled students). He also attended the South Carolina Physics Scholars Institute at Francis Marion University.
But there was a time when Wendy and her husband, Wally, who is a Baptist minister, thought Jonathan never would survive, much less thrive and become a gifted scholar.
“When he would grow into a new size of clothes, we would buy an outfit to bury him in because we expected him to die,” Wendy remembered.
Jonathan was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He had to be delivered using a technique known as vacuum extraction, and he suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding between the membranes around the brain) in the process.
Afterward, Jonathan had all sorts of problems, including severe reflux. But the most alarming to his parents were apnea and bradycardia. Jonathan would stop breathing, his blood oxygen level would drop and his heart rate would slow. Then the alarms on his monitors would ring and beep.
“We would have to rub him, pat him or stimulate him in some other way to get him to draw a breath,” Wendy said. “After a while, he wouldn’t respond to that, so we had to do CPR. He lost his ability to suck; he felt no pain. When he was four weeks old, he couldn’t even turn his head.”
To his parents and doctors’ surprise, Jonathan made it past infancy and the toddler stage. But the disturbing diagnoses continued to pile up. Wally and Wendy found out that their son had sensory integration disorder, auditory processing disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Asperger’s syndrome.
When Jonathan took an IQ test for the first time, his score, which was below 70, indicated that he was mentally challenged.
“We did the preschool screening with the public schools and we were told that Jonathan definitely qualified for services,” Wendy said. “They offered to pick him up and take him to school when he was 3. They were going to put him in a special needs program. Because he was just coming off the life support monitors, I wasn’t willing to do that. But I did go ahead and start with teaching him numbers and colors and those kinds of things at home.”
Wendy discovered that Jonathan needed to be touched in order to learn, so she held him in her lap during the early days of his home schooling. She taught him to add and subtract using M&Ms.
“I was teaching outside the box, but nobody really asked me any questions because nobody really had any expectations for him,” Wendy said. “I thought, ‘Let’s just see how it goes.’ But when he progressed so well, I thought, ‘Well, this seems to be working.’”
Jonathan was reading by the time he was 6 and he was a year ahead of his peers in math by the time he reached the fourth grade level.
“I asked his medical doctor what to do,” Wendy said, “and he told me, ‘Take him as far as he can go as fast as he can go. Push him a little hard, but not too much.’”
As Jonathan continued to advance academically, his mother found even more ways to help him learn despite his handicaps.
“We didn’t fill out worksheet pages, we did projects,” Wendy said. “We hatched all kinds of animals on the counter. We had a praying mantis, a lizard and a frog. We’ve had ladybugs and butterflies, and we dissected five different animals on the kitchen table.”
Because Jonathan had been diagnosed with expressive language disorder, a therapist advised Wendy not to make him write compositions. But Wendy discovered an Institute for Excellence in Writing program that offered a handy formula, and Jonathan wrote an essay each day.
“That was so long ago, I don’t remember it,” he said. “But what I do know is that whenever I go to write an essay now, it comes naturally to me. It’s almost like I don’t even have to try.”
Math proved to be a much less formidable subject because “it’s a process and my brain works in processes,” Jonathan said. “You learn how to take this information and get another piece of information from it. That’s easy for me. I can do it in my head.”
Working on Jonathan’s social skills was also important, Wendy said. She took him on visits to retirement homes and he participated in field trips and social events for home-schooled children. Jonathan also became the coach of the local MathCounts homeschool team.
Preparing for USC Aiken is Jonathan’s next big task.
“It is a constant subject with us right now – getting used to taking classes with other people, taking notes, getting used to actually sitting down for a few hours to study for a test,” said Jonathan, who one day would like to work as an Imagineer (a designer and developer) with the Walt Disney Company.
“College will definitely be a new experience,” he continued. “I expect there will be some accommodations – maybe I’ll get extra test time at certain points – but in certain classes there won’t be. I’m especially looking forward to the curriculum, being able to learn stuff that is more advanced.”
Said Wendy of her oldest child: “He’s going to need a little extra attention and things are going to be different. But he’ll figure it out. God has gotten Jonathan this far. He’ll take him the rest of the way.”