About two years ago, I started recognizing patterns in some of my youngest son's 'quirks'. He had always hated places with loud noises. Going to a movie theater or fireworks display had been a problem...until I discovered earmuffs made it bearable for him. It soon became clear that he didn't even like 'busy' places. If we went to a place like the mall or a museum, he became distracted and irritated. Sometime around the age of three, we had him evaluated by a speech therapist. She worked with him for a brief time on a few minor problems he had. Background noises were a problem for him. If he was reading and JT made even the slightest noise, he would be annoyed and claim he needed to start the reading assignment from the beginning because he couldn't remember what he had read. Then when I started giving him spelling lists last year, I noticed that he seemed to have much more difficulty with simple words than I had expected him to have. His reading levels were above grade...why was spelling such a problem for him?
A friend suggested that he might be dealing with Auditory Processing Disorder. After reading the symptoms, I wasn't 100% sure that he was, but figured it might be a good idea to have him evaluated.
The evaluation was done at a local university through their speech and hearing clinic. I felt like I might be wasting their time, but just couldn't shake the feeling that something 'just wasn't right'. It turned out I wasn't imagining things. He has a problem with his auditory processing. The official diagnosis in the summary reads like this,
"Overall test results indicate an auditory processing disorder associated with decoding type deficits as well as maturational issues. Specific deficits noted include poor phonemic awareness, synthesis, and sound blending abilities. In addition, ----'s test results indicated abnormally large right ear advantage scores."
We were given several recommendations. We were told to begin using a home computer program called Earobics. We were given classroom suggestions; preferential seating (keeping him close to the teacher or white board), seating away from visual and auditory distractions, extra time to complete assignments when large amounts of reading are required. We should change multi-step directions to simple statements, one direction at a time. More use of visual aids. Keeping instruction time short. Students with impaired auditory function become tired more quickly, so they need regular breaks in the school day.
I have done all of these things since day one of our school year. But there was one more recommendation...
"A speech and language evaluation to determine current receptive and expressive language skills is warranted."
Next week, at his yearly physical appointment, I will be looking into having this evaluation done. I was hoping that just doing the home use of Earobics and being careful to instruct him in a way that suites his needs would be enough. But I'm seeing him struggle where he shouldn't need to be struggling. He is interpreting things we are saying in unusual ways. And now it's starting to frustrate him. During his testing, the audiologist gave me an example of where he had a problem. They read the word 'boat' to him. He was to tell them what he heard. He heard, "big toe". Some days I wonder exactly what he hears when I talk to him. When I told the audiologist that I had 'felt' something was wrong, but could never really be sure she said, "The gifted ones are tough. They do a good job making do with what they can do. They hide it well."
I am so thankful that EM does not need to be in a normal classroom environment. It would make his problem so much more of a problem. I am working to educate myself more thoroughly on exactly what is going on for him. I just bought a new book, When the Brain Can't Hear: Unraveling the Mystery of Auditory Processing Disorder by Dr. Teri James Bellis. I'm hoping this book will help me to help my son.
I know many people think if your child is gifted, you have nothing to worry about. If they can get good grades, why push them any harder? Why worry about challenge? If I had been happy with good grades, I would never have known something else was going on here. Maybe we can make things easier for him in the future.