My 5yo Wesley’s Auditory Processing Problems

First, let me say that I’m loathe to discover one more “issue” with any of my kids.  However, from seeing the benefit that a knowledgable diagnosis can bring to our family, I don’t shun such things, either.  My heart, though, is indescribably sad over the potential of yet one more problem with my dear son.  And, frankly, it’s giving pause to the desire that I’ve had to add baby #5 to our family.  I haven’t yet spoken with my husband about this, other than to mention it in passing a couple of weeks ago.  I think he’d be even more upset about another potential problem.  I need to process this… to think about it… to pray more… to research more… to figure out what to do…  My hubby reads my blog occasionally, and part of me wants him to see this post before I talk to him IRL about Wes, and part of me doesn’t.  Historically, with heavy issues, I often do best in writing.  Maybe I’ll e-mail him a link.

Wes has had some difficulties that, honestly, I mostly chalked up to him being the “baby.”  It’s dawning on me, now, as we near the closing of his Kindergarten year, that he has not “grown out” of many difficulties that I thought were likely just immaturity.  It’s dawning on me that they might not be just simple immaturities, but some definite auditory processing problems.

I’ve talked to two different occupational therapists about this, and both of them thought my concerns raised definite red flags, though both of them said that they don’t do any diagnoses themselves.

  • Wes speaks in an oddly indistinct manner.  It’s not quite a lisp, not quite a mumble; it’s as if certain words or sounds just come out of being formed by… well, like his tongue is bigger than it should be, so it can’t correctly form the sounds.  That’s not truly the case;  his tongue is normal size.  It’s just that that’s what it sounds like.  He watches my mouth closely as I try to get him to speak more distinctly.  I’ve seen a bit of improvement there (especially with the soft & hard “th” sounds), but not much.
  • Wes has an oddly difficult time differentiating between some short vowel sounds, especially “ih” and “eh” (i/e)… well, and a, ah and uh (a/o/u), too, for that matter.
  • He largely reads by sight and memory, having a very difficult time breaking down the words into their individual sounds.  He doesn’t “sound out” words.
  • He doesn’t “get” the concept of rhyming at all.
  • He gets easily overwhelmed in noisy situations, often trying to find a table under which he can crawl, and place his hands over his ears.  He prefers quiet play to noisy play.  He often prefers to even be out of the room when the TV is on.  He often sneaks away to some quiet setting.
  • When speaking to him, he often doesn’t respond.  This has been particulary difficult to deal with;  it’s hard to tell if this is behavioral, or if he’s really having a hard time understanding/hearing what is said to him, and/or what he should say back.
  • In noisy situations, instead of speaking more loudly to be heard, he has the tendency to almost whisper… as if he doesn’t really want to contribute to the din.
  • When he is really concentrating on listening to me, he puts one hand over one ear, and tilts the other ear up to me… as if to block out all other sounds but my voice.
  • He frequently messes with his ears, putting his hands over them.
  • Thinking about it, he is drawn to quiet, older boys.  Most of the kids his own age are rambunctious, loud, and rowdy.  Even the kids his own age whose company he prefers, are very quiet.  Yet… he himself… it’s not like he’s sedate;  he’s actually very active.  But he prefers active, quiet play, which is almost an oxymoron.  I’ve thought before — before I even identified any potential auditory problems — that when he’s older, he’d like sports like competitive swimming, or track…  Hm….  Quiet, yet active.
  • (By the way, he’s not always quiet.  When he’s hurt, he actually has an amazingly piercing scream.  And, he can be as loud as the next kid.  But, more often than not, he prefers quiet play.)

There are probably other things I’m not thinking of right now…

In talking on the phone to an occupational therapist (not “our”/Grant’s OT, but the former therapist of a friend’s daughter) yesterday, she asked me something that I’d considered before:  “Was Wesley sick much as a baby?”  To which I replied, “Yes!  He was an extremely sickly baby, due to an undiagnosed genetic problem.  He constantly ran a low-grade temperature, and had frequent ear infections.  Five times in his first year, he had ear infections so bad that his eardrum(s) burst.”  (After we put him on a gluten-free diet, all of this cleared up, nearly overnight.  He has had only one ear infection in the last 4.5 years.)  The OT explained to me that in Wesley’s critical first year, his ears were so frequently filled with fluid that sounds, to him, were being filtered…. as if he were hearing under water.  This affected how his speech and understanding of speech and sounds developed.  Also, there was likely a “wave effect” — where when his ears cleared up, it was like he was innundated with sound… Instead of his hearing/auditory processing progressing down a steady path, it was like he was constantly being tossed back and forth from “underwater” to “giant wall of sound.”

My poor, dear boy.

The therapist recommended a book to me, When the Brain Can’t Hear, which I have placed a hold on, at my library.  She also invited me to bring Wesley (and my three other kids!  Yay!!  I don’t have to find a babysitter!!!) to her after-school phonemic awareness class that she runs, which is currently attended by about 10 kids from K-3rd grade.  Looking at the calendar, we won’t be able to go until 05/22.  She did tell me (and it made sense to me) that phonemic awareness is often a symptom of auditory processing problems;  it’s not usually a problem that’s an island to itself.  (Phonemic awareness is understanding that each word is made up of individual sounds, and being able to isolate those sounds.)   

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on May 8, 2007, in Celiac Disease, Homeschooling, Introspective Musings, Medical Stuff, Parenting, Sad Things, The Dear Hubby, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I know your frustration. It definitely sounds like there’s an issue. I hope the class helps. Do you have to see a speech pathologist or something like that to get a diagnosis? Maybe they can get him into some therapy that the insurance will pay for.

    I actually had stopped by to tell you about this: http://celiac.wordpress.com/2007/05/07/bread-machines-with-a-gluten-free-cycle/ I can’t remember if you make your own bread but it sounds interesting. We have a bread machine that was given to us a week before we were given our initial diagnosis for Louis and it doesn’t really do a very good job with the gf bread. 😦

    Anyway, I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers. It is so dang frustrating to find another thing. :-/ (How do you type the smiley that is pulling out his hair? lol)

  2. When it rains it pours….rushing off to the dreaded/beloved “support” group. Will pray for you RE Wes but it sounds like, as always being the good Mom that you are, are on to something. Wild ride, eh?! Love you.

  3. Praying for you and your family…we are all uniquely, wonderfully, and fearfully made and God knows Wes’s needs and He knows your heart and that is why you are Wes’ mommy. Continue walking in your mommy role which you know includes doctor/therapist and a host of other things as God continues to lead you to resources like He did today so that you and your dh can be the parents that God intended you both to be to all of your bundles of joy. I will also pray on timing for you and dh to talk about this and the next steps. Blessings!!!

  4. I came across your site while trying to find info about eating issues my 7 mo old daughter is having. I’m a hearing aid fitter up in Cottonwood and I’ve had severe hearing loss all my life.

    I would recommend you have Wesley tested by a pediatric audiologist who is experienced in diagnosing auditory processing issues. I’m sorry I don’t have any names to recommend but I’m sure your local school district has someone to refer to. You could also call the ASU audiology dept and explain your situation–they may be able to do testing at reduced or no fee for the sake of student clinic training guinea pig etc…

    One thing I’ve learned in my practice and life about language development is that we tend to talk in the way that we hear. I explain all the time that the speech features that are ‘missing’ or ‘off’ from someone’s speech is partly because those features are ‘missing’ from their hearing. An audiological evaluation can determine what those factors are. Even a mild hearing loss can affect Wesley’s speech this way.

    This could also explain why your ‘speech therapy’ sessions don’t really change anything. It is good that you practice those things (would that every parent were that attentive and involved) but he can’t easily correct his own speech if he can’t hear his own speech accurately.

    Some of the behavior you describe makes me suspect he may have some conductive loss issues (eardrum and middle ear). His hushed speaking style might be due to his ability to hear his voice vibrating in his head quite well but doesn’t realize such a soft voice isn’t appropriate for ambient sound levels—meaning he hears the sounds vibrating in his head louder than he hears sounds (including his own voice) through the air.

    His difficulty with vowel differentiation “‘ih’-‘eh'” may very well mean he has some current middle ear fluid ‘muddying’ the sound he hears. His playing with his ears a lot could be a sign of this problem too.

    Keep in mind, I’m just trying to guesstimate based on what you report–I could be wrong in my thinkings.

    His preference for quiet could have any number of explanations. If he has trouble hearing and understanding (audibility and comprehension), noise makes it much more difficult. Common in hearing loss (whether auditory or central processing) is a sort of hypersensitivity to changes in loudness. Something that sounds loud but comfortable/tolerable to you; he might perceive as irritatingly loud. That is, the relationship between a sound and his perception of it runs on a different ‘scale’ compared to ‘normal’.

    It is great that he pays attention and makes good efforts (the hand cupping ear/leaning closer behavior). It sounds like he functions quite well the majority of the time. Another thing to keep in mind is that physiologically, speech development doesn’t start maturing until they get to 8-10 years old. Given the ear problem history, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve got some of those middle ear problems making a return visit in a lower grade form.

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