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Nolte overcomes the odds to excel academically, socially

Date: 09/01/2017

Donning a pristine burgundy cap and gown, Catherine Nolte sat restlessly among her classmates. With each passing moment, her anxiety increased as the Benton High School Class of 2017 awaited the start of their commencement exercises.  

Though reaching that milestone was a foregone conclusion for some, Nolte is among the individuals who had to overcome unique circumstances to obtain the feat. 

Hence the reason she intensely searched for her loved ones as she shifted in her seat. Nolte wanted to make sure they were able to witness the life-changing accomplishment.

“The whole process felt surreal,” Nolte said.

While looking for her family, Nolte heard a woman say, “Look at all those graduation cords.”

She then quickly realized the lady was referring to her. Nolte was an honor student finishing in the top percentile of her class.

The woman said to Nolte, “I bet you did all your homework assignments and respected all your teachers?”

Nolte, the daughter of Chris and Christi responded, “Yes ma’am.”

An unassuming 18-year-old with brown hair, Nolte has the look of a typical teen. Her appearance would not suggest to the inquisitive woman – or anybody else – that she overcame developmental delays resulting from a premature birth en-route to becoming a Suma Cum Laude high school graduate, who scored 32 on the ACT.

“I remember the moment I found out that I got a 32,” said Nolte, who received several scholarships. “I screamed. … I couldn’t believe it.”

“Catherine has earned everything she’s received,” Chris stated. “I look forward to seeing what she does in college and beyond. I’m proud to be her father. I know it hasn’t been easy for her, but Catherine is a fighter. I know she’ll make it.”

The Noltes keep several mementos to commemorate their daughter’s various triumphs.  Among them is a box that contains a bed of cement. Inside the cement are an imprint of a miniature pair of hands and feet.

 A mere 48 hours into her life, Catherine’s heart and lungs hemorrhaged and she stayed in the Intensive Care Unit for 45 days. Though she made a full recovery physically, doctors determined that Catherine’s premature birth resulted in her having a delayed mental maturation. Once they were aware, the Noltes sought immediate aid for Catherine.

Subsequently, they were introduced to “Early Intervention” through First Connections Early Intervention services.

Provided by the Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS), Early Intervention is designed to support parents and other caregivers in helping their child develop and learn through specialized services. The plan also supports the infant or toddler who has a developmental delay or disability by helping him or her actively participate in typical child and family activities as a means to develop new skills.

When referred to First Connections, the Noltes developed their Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) with the help of Early Intervention staff. 

“The parents do the planning with the support of Early Intervention professionals on their IFSP team,” Staff Development & Policy Coordinator Ravyn Hawkins said. “The parent also uses the family plan to implement various strategies to promote their child’s early learning and skill development, just like a classroom teacher would use an Individualized Education Plan in a classroom.”

The Noltes’ plan included developmental therapy, which helped Chris and Christi better assist their daughter.

“It was a daily task trying to keep Catherine well,” Christi said. “It was not until I met with a DDS employee and a representative from Kid Source and observed how well they worked with Catherine that I realized there was hope for her to flourish.”

Catherine’s situation continually improved, and she eventually tested out of any form of developmental therapy.

“It was such a blessing for our daughter. We were able to receive help not only for Catherine, but also for our family,” Christi said. “At first she had problems socially, but Early Intervention helped Catherine make a full development. Early Intervention is truly a special program.”

Aside from the occasional church or school- related trip, the Noltes have always remained close to Catherine. 

However, their tight-knit family dynamic has been changed. Catherine is currently a student at John Brown University in Siloam Springs.

But are the Noltes worried about Catherine adapting to her new environment?  Not hardly.

Catherine is excited. A staunch Christian who will major in public relations and minor in Christian Ministry, Catherine expects to excel at JBU. The confidence she exudes was birthed years ago.  A member of Holland Chapel Baptist Church in Benton, she knows how to respond when times get tough.

“When I was having the developmental issues, it helped knowing my family always supported me. When I got older my situation improved,” Catherine said. “However, I still became somewhat nervous to try something new. Each time, my parents remind me of how far I’ve already come and that God is with me.”

Overall, Catherine wants to be a source of inspiration for all individuals who battle developmental disabilities.

“For any person who has dealt with similar obstacles as me, in regard to their social life, I’d inform them to always be themselves. I’d let them know to not be afraid of what makes them different,” she said. “As for academics, I want any person who’s like me to remember to focus on what they’re good at and have fun with it. When it comes to subjects they’re not strong in, just work at it. Do not get discouraged.” 


Arkansas Department of Human Services
Arkansas Department of Human Services

Arkansas Department
of Human Services
(501) 682-1001

TTY: 1-800-285-1131 or dial 711 for Arkansas Relay Service

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