“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein
My son lives in a world in which many adults treat him as if he doesn’t belong, simply because he has a difficult time expressing his thoughts and processing information the same way as other kids his age.
You see, he has a speech and language disorder and an Auditory Processing Disorder. As a result, he is an outcast in a world he is just beginning to plant his feet in.
His need to have questions repeated frustrates adults. They tend to impatiently disengage and cast him aside as if he were a broken vase, not worth fixing. From sideways glances to thoughtlessly cruel comments, living with a learning disability in a world that wants everything done five seconds ago can easily be seen as a curse.
But in our case, his diagnosis has been the biggest blessing in disguise.
My son developed at a “normal” rate, at least according to every typical milestone report. He verbalized at an early age, but then when he turned two — it all stopped. Any words he had learned were replaced by grunting and yelling.
This was the point at which my curious, delightful, affectionate, and vibrant child learned early on that some adults disregarded him for not being able to verbalize his wants and needs or fully understand or properly follow directions. The best way these adults could deal with a child who “just doesn’t listen to what he’s told” or “is just being lazy” was to not allow him to play outside with his friends and suspend him from preschool. Yes, suspended at three!
Since this particular preschool was not meeting his needs or offering any type of support, my husband and I decided to take the necessary steps to find out what was behind his behavior. During this exhausting process, we met with a variety of professionals who, without ever administering a single test, quickly wrote us off and gave us the “parents are usually in denial when they are told their children will never have the same abilities as other children” spiel. Without much other explanation, these doctors eagerly tried to medicate him, as this was the only way they felt he would ever be able to function ‘normally.’
Feeling no more informed than before we started the process, we decided against following any of the medication suggestions or other similar passive advice. Instead, we decided to do our own research and find the best specialist we could based on our son’s needs.
We knew he didn’t communicate, so we searched for a speech therapist to screen and evaluate him. In our endeavor, we found an amazing speech pathologist who began treating him immediately. In less than a year, he went from not virtual muteness to full communication.
When he was about five, the speech pathologist noticed he would often confuse similar sounding words and had difficulty discriminating sounds, so she recommended us to a specialized audiologist who diagnosed him with an Auditory Processing Disorder.
Despite all the progress we’d made, when my son started kindergarten at a new school, he immediately fell behind and was performing below grade level in all areas of academics. School administrators tested him, and told us that they believed his ability to learn would be minimal.
As my son struggled to understand the basic concepts, he would often share how lonely he felt. He would come home defeated, saying things like “I just don’t understand what they say,” “my teachers talk too fast,” or “I’m just not smart.”
His inability to understand, process and answer questions like his peers made him feel weak. But with guidance, support, and his own strength and tenacity, he was able to defy everyone’s expectations — his own included. The very things people saw as a weakness in him are the very things that he has used to overcome some of his hardest obstacles, both academically and socially.
We are now closing in on the end of the school year and I am happy to report that my son is performing at or above grade level. He is fully aware of his differences and accepts them. He understands he speaks and takes in information differently than his peers. He understands he needs to use an FM Unit, a type of wireless system hearing aid, in school to help him better identify and understand speech in distracting or noisy situations.
So what do I have to say to those who compared my son’s intelligence to that of a leaf?
Thank you for bringing out the resilience in my son, and for giving me the fortitude to not believe what I was told, to provide my son with the best learning opportunity possible, and equip him with the resources needed to succeed. And most importantly, to teach others that having a learning disability does not mean a child is broken — that they can and do, succeed.
The biggest piece of advice I give my son every day before dropping him off at school is to never settle to fit into someone else’s mold. To nurture his gifts and talent and to always celebrate his uniqueness. Which is pretty good advice for every kid to hear, don’t you think?More On