Smiling woman learning sign language.

How the Deaf Community 'Gave Me My Voice' as a Person With Auditory Processing Disorder

Thank you, Deaf community, for giving me my voice back.

For all of my 41 years, I have been challenged by oral communication. For most of my life, I could only achieve verbal fluency in short bursts that were intermittent and unpredictable. I now know that my struggle with spoken language was in part because I live with severe auditory processing disorder. I suspect I also have autism, but getting a diagnosis as an adult takes either thousands of dollars or what seems to be an Act of Congress, and I don’t have the means to obtain either at the moment.

My auditory processing disorder went unnoticed and undiagnosed for my first four decades of life. After a brain injury, its effects on my speech became so pronounced that it was finally recognized. When I learned in middle age of the reasons for my intensified difficulty with spoken language, I was urged to seek therapy with audiologists and speech language pathologists to correct my perceived shortcomings. But I like who I am, so I sought another avenue. I went instead to you, the people of Deaf community, and I asked you to teach me your language.

When sensory overload takes away my ability to use my oral communication, the neural pathways to my hands still function. I can still use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate when my brain refuses to allow me to speak English. But I do not want this process to be abstract when it is in fact very human.

ASL is different from many languages because the story behind it is a story of perseverance in the face of oppression. It is the story of Deaf people’s precarious triumphs over the oralists who would have taken their natural language and forced them to assimilate and use speech for which Deaf people are not as naturally suited.

I thank you for sharing ASL. I thank you for sharing stories of your historical and contemporary successes of building and maintaining a fine and functional culture that has no need for a typical relationship with sound. I thank you for helping me to understand how you have always embraced those who are different from the mainstream, how you have room for Deaf and deaf people, hard of hearing people, and deaf-blind people.

I am in a grey area between deaf and hearing, so I know my experience is not identical to yours. I do not wish to take more than you freely offer. I do not wish to speak for you. But I do wish to offer my gratitude for what you have shared, and acknowledge that I understand the challenges your community has gone through to simply establish that you are OK just as you are. That Deafness is not bad, but simply another condition with which some human beings live.

Your gift of signed language has given me my voice back. Your amazing visual vernacular is poetry to my optically-oriented brain. With this gift of ASL, I know I will be able to make myself understood in ways I could not before. Please accept my offer of deep gratitude.

Thank you.

Follow this journey on A Thinking Patient.

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To the Parents of Kids With Sensory Sensitivity, From the Stranger Who Gave You 'the Look'


Hey you! You, with the blog that walks through the everyday challenges you and your child face. You, who writes passionate pieces that call for an understanding of your child’s unique needs.

I need to talk to you.

I am the type of person your child may become in the next few decades. I am a non-neurotypical adult navigating the multitude of challenges that exist in a world that has a long way to go to before achieving a full level of acceptance of those with brain differences. You and I need to work together to educate and inform. We need to work together to make the world more welcoming for your child on the autism spectrum. For your child with sensory processing disorder or auditory processing disorder. For your child with ADD or ADHD. For your child with anxiety or panic disorder. For your child with any of a litany of experiences that place him or her outside the neurological mainstream.

I have walked a path similar to the one your child is walking now. I’ve walked it since 1975, when the diagnoses I listed above were unknown or even more poorly understood than they remain today. I walked it without a mother or father like you who held my hand or picked me up when I stumbled. I walked it alone, sometimes confidently, and sometimes cautiously.

I was graced with moments when people outside of my family, people who I now think of as precious gems offered me safety and security, however briefly. I was cursed by times when I struggled unsupported and almost lost my life. Worse yet were the times when I lost hope.

We need to be allies, but I am saddened that many times we seem to be at odds. When a look of horror crosses my face as I turn up the red noise on my noise-cancelling headphones and run from your child as she screams in the grocery store, don’t assume I’m a callous jerk. When I force back tears and grit my teeth as your child melts down at the pharmacy, don’t call me evil for wearing a look of displeasure before I am forced by the noise to depart without my medication.

I want very much for your child and I to be able to share the same space. The same stimuli that torment your child, causing him to cry and wail, hurt me just as much. Please protect your child. I know there will be trial and error. You will have to experiment with sunglasses, ear muffs and ear defenders, and various sensory objects. Please keep trying. The pain your child has undergone by the time they reach the point of the 110 decibel meltdown that drives me back to my home, is a pain you simply cannot fathom.

I am your ally. I am the person who will ask the store manager to turn down the music. I will ask the receptionist at the doctor’s office to turn down the television. I am the person who will give you a crash course in creating quiet. I am the person who will answer questions about why certain things hurt sensory sensitive people in the way they do. I am the person who can offer survival strategies for an unwelcoming world. I am also the person who can only risk going to Target or the grocery store once a week because my noise-cancelling earbuds can’t block all sounds, and a single encounter with a 110-dB shriek can ruin my cognition and concentration for the rest of the day. With sound of prolonged intensity and exposure, I can become completely nonverbal.

I have to delegate my sensory risk-taking and my energy expenditures, as does your child. So please understand, if in a moment of hurt you see a look cross my face that is less than kind, it is because I am reaching as deep as I can into my heart for compassion for you, while in the midst of great pain and the rapid onset of immense confusion. My expression may be strained as I try to balance finding empathy for your child and respecting my own need to protect myself.

Please understand that we all belong together in this world, and we must share the same roads. Should we pass one another and our needs seem to be in conflict, it may be because my needs and the needs of your child are actually the same. We are united by experiences and only separated by age.

Image via Thinkstock.


5 Tips for Home Schooling a Child With Special Needs


That moment when a parent learns that his or her child has special needs can feel like being stuck in the tracks, while an oncoming train of information is running full steam ahead. If you’re that parent, a major decision you’ll have to face is education.

There are many options, but if you decide to home school, you may be feeling apprehensive. Don’t let the lack of experience or credentials lead you to believe you’re not qualified to do this. You are a greater expert on your child than you think.

Here are five tips:

1. Study your child.

You will be a student first before becoming a teacher. By studying your child, you will have a firmer grasp on his temperament and learning style. Doing this will shrink down the mountain of available curriculum, and you can concentrate on what works best for your child.

2. Split up your day.

My child was first diagnosed with a language disorder and, later on, with auditory processing disorder. My biggest mistake when I first started home schooling was trying to get our work done as quickly as possible to avoid any resistance, like when you gulp down that nasty medicine because it’s easier than torturing your taste buds with little sips. But it doesn’t work that way with a special needs child. Little sips of work with lots of small breaks sprinkled in between will grant you a more productive school day.

3. Spend one-on-one time.

One of the biggest reasons why you probably want to home school is because your child thrives on one-on-one interaction, whereas a busy classroom of 30 plus kids may leave your child ignored at best. If you have more than one kid, set up rotating “stations” of independent activities, like computer games, reading or workbooks, and make one of those stations for “Mommy and me” time. That way, everyone can have one-on-one time with you.

4. Set up your child for success.

Another mistake I’ve made was presenting lessons solely in a lecture format, containing little or no visual aids, even though my kid was a visual and kinesthetic learner. When preparing schoolwork for your child, set him up for success. Slowly challenge him in areas where he is weak, but not to the point of frustrating him. And then pair it with activities that will call on his strengths.

5. See each day as a new day.

When you’re home schooling a child with special needs, today will not look like yesterday or the day before. That science experiment may not have piqued your youngster’s interest as you thought it would. That very engaging math lesson just went over his head. An unavoidable meltdown caused you to end school early. Though you didn’t complete anything in today’s lesson plan, the learning doesn’t have to stop. So close those school books, just for now. Snuggle on the couch with a favorite story book or bake some cookies together. Tomorrow will be a new day.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


A Person With Auditory Processing Disorder Answers, 'What Do You Hear?'


At age 40, I was liberated by my Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) diagnosis. Of the four subtypes of APD: decoding, tolerance-fading memory, integration, and organization, I have been confirmed to experience three. My audiologist states I experience issues with decoding, tolerance-fading memory and integration. He states he cannot rule out organization as a potential component as well.

Post liberation, I find it easier to communicate with people because I can ask for conditions that facilitate my ability to hear and understand speech. But people wonder: What was I hearing before?

Let me explain.

Have you ever used speech-to-text on your smartphone and watched the screen as the program sorts through multiple potential words and spellings until it accurately or inaccurately decides what you were trying to say?

That’s how I hear. It’s almost like Siri and I were separated at birth.

When I hear speech, I sort through multiple potential spellings and meanings and try to match the vague sounds I hear to the context of the conversation. I picture the potential spellings of words in my head nonstop to aid in my understanding. I think of this visual spelling habit as my internal closed captioning system.

I hear sound just fine, but individual speech sounds are indistinct. When a word starts with the letter P, for instance, I simply don’t hear the P. You say the word “play,” and I hear “lay.” You say “piece,” I hear “ees.” Well, I hear “ees” if I’m lucky and there’s no background noise. Add background noise to the equation, and I’ll only hear a long e, or “ee.” That’s a hell of a lot of English words to sort through to figure out which long e word you were using.

OK, you may be thinking. That’s not that big of a deal, you obviously know people aren’t saying “ees” or “ee” to you, right? Just pay attention and you can sort it out.

Well, compound that with other phonemes that challenge me and it becomes more problematic. I can’t hear most L sounds correctly. So “puzzle” becomes “uzza” because both P and L are involved.

Imagine playing a game of hangman or Wheel of Fortune when you only have a few letters. That is what auditory life is like for me. I only managed to get this far because I have tremendous puzzle solving skills. Once you understand the dynamics, it is easy to understand why many people who have APD remain nonverbal.

In a face-to-face situation with no background noise I can supplement my understanding with lip-reading and get by. On the phone I have no such benefit. You can see how I might fall behind in conversation as I’m trying to sort out sounds and the person to whom I’m speaking is just rambling on full speed ahead as people are prone to do.

Think about the multitude of unnecessary words you sprinkle into phone conversations. Think about the noise behind you when you use the phone. Is there music? Are you sitting at a table where others are having a conversation? Are you in a loud office environment? Are you alternating speaking to me and also speaking to someone in the room with you? Ever turn your head from the phone to yell at your kid who was already screaming in the background? And God forbid, are you using the freaking speaker phone?

Now imagine someone like me on the other end of that phone conversation. I already didn’t stand a chance hearing 50 percent of what you said without visual context clues. Now you’ve just reduced my understanding to 20- or even 10 percent. I will probably ask you to repeat yourself, and you will probably become impatient and annoyed with me. You will think I’m not paying attention and when you later learn I have completely misunderstood something you said, you will assume I am stupid or that I suffer from a refusal to follow directions.

Think for a second about the social ramifications.

I have been absolutely shamed for my inability to hear, even in places where one might think people are peaceful and enlightened.

I once took a yoga class at a local community center. I had not yet been diagnosed with auditory processing disorder. When I arrived, the only spots left were in the back of the room, quite far from the instructor. Each time the instructor asked us to change asanas, I looked at the mirrors and at the movements of my classmates to understand what I was supposed to be doing. I simply couldn’t hear the instructor. I got through the entire series of classes that way and I really enjoyed the yoga experience.

After the final class, many of the students stuck around to thank the instructor and ask her where they could take more classes. The young woman in front of me told the instructor she had enjoyed the class but that she preferred to be grouped with advanced practitioners in a private studio environment because she found it irritating that the community center had mirrors and that some people, she said, while giving me a hard glare, were always looking at the mirrors and at other students instead of focusing on their own practice. I can hear tones perfectly well and her voice was full of contempt.

I felt so ashamed. I had been waiting in line to tell the instructor how much I had enjoyed the class and I had instead learned this other student had been so offended by the efforts I had taken to follow the teacher’s verbal instructions. I turned and left the room, and it took me years attempt a yoga class again. I knew I couldn’t participate without using visual cues, but clearly that pissed off other students. I didn’t know how else to get through the class, and I didn’t want to anger another practitioner.

I think of the many times I try speaking with people I don’t know well, usually coworkers, when they quickly verbally digress in a direction I couldn’t follow. I try my best to keep up and I simply can’t. Before I know it they are yelling, “It was a joke! Don’t you get it?” It becomes clear I’ve missed a cue, but I don’t understand what cue.

I respond by smiling like I understand, just to try to make the situation smooth again, but they can tell I don’t understand at all. Their humor then can turn to anger. “Don’t you have a sense of humor?” “Always so serious!” “Lighten the hell up!” Then they mutter something about what an “idiot” I am, and walk away. This has happened more times than I can count. It sums up my entire working life.

I remember a Thanksgiving dinner with family members, who due to family dynamics, I had not seen in several years.

“Do ya ha any is?” my stepfather asked me. There were lots of people at the dinner and the raised ceiling home was filled to overflowing with voices.

I had been staring at his mouth, trying to sort out what he was saying. But I simply couldn’t figure it out.

“Do I have any keys?” I guessed back to him. I knew he was a car enthusiast, maybe he wanted to see what I was driving.

His brows lowered and his expression darkened. I was familiar with this disapproving look from my childhood. It was the look he had given me when as a kid I always “just wouldn’t listen.”

“Do you have any kids?” he blasted back.

“Um, oh, no,” I replied as my face reddened. I really didn’t like making people angry.

These are examples of the things I hear, or rather don’t hear, and their real life implications for social interactions.

I hope this has shed some light on one presentation of auditory processing disorder. I further hope it encourages you to be patient with people who ask for repetition or exhibit misunderstanding. You can never presume the person to whom you are speaking hears as you do.

Image via Thinkstock.


When a Boy Came Up to My Son During a Meltdown on Picture Day


School picture day is usually a highlight for most students. I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror weeks before the anticipated day, practicing my smile. Big or half smile? Teeth or no teeth? Which one is my best side?

When our homeschool group held its annual picture day, my son took his individual shots like a pro. We waited around for everyone else to finish, and then the call to gather all the children for the group picture came. This is when the tides began to shift.

The children were told to line up from tallest to shortest. Obviously, the older children knew what to do, but the younger ones, like my kids, looked lost and confused. The chatter amongst the adults and children grew louder, and when my son tried to call me for help, I didn’t hear him. He started to melt down. This is what it’s like to have auditory processing disorder.

Rearranging the students around for a group photo is to be expected, but when the photographer kept changing the spot where my son was to stand, that put him over the edge. In the middle of a sea of children, there was my child, frustrated and crying. God, please help me, I silently prayed as I tried to calm him down.

When everything was done, the walk back to the car seemed endless. I could no longer hold back my own tears.

During the incident when my son was crying, a boy his age reached out to him. “It’s OK,” he comforted. Afterwards when the children dispersed, this boy approached him again and gave him a hug. But my son wasn’t the only one who was the recipient of some needed encouragement. Two mothers came to me at the parking lot, hugged me and prayed with me. This was the good I believe God intended from a difficult situation: love through the selfless actions of others.

When we see someone in emotional distress, it’s not always easy to approach that person. We don’t want to get involved. We are at a loss for words. We are fearful of making it more awkward and worse for that person and for us. Often, we find it easier to turn the other way. The boy and the mothers did the harder thing. They came to us. And we were blessed by it.


To the People Who Reach Out to My Child With Special Needs


My child with an auditory processing disorder was just trying to make conversation, but clearly, the other kid just didn’t get him. “There’s something wrong with his brain,” I overheard him say to someone else.

At that moment, I wanted to cry but controlled it to spare myself from being the center of attention at a public place. I wanted to scoop up my child, put my arms around him and shield him from any hurt, intentional or unintentional, that will come from this world.

But I know putting him in a protective bubble isn’t what’s best. As cruel as the world can sometimes be, I believe there are people God has placed in my child’s path to reach out to him, and you are one of them. You may be thinking, “Me? What did I do?”

You greeted him.

A simple “hello” goes a long way. Far too many of us are preoccupied with our own world or the world being displayed on the tiny screen in our hands that we fail to look up and notice the person right in front of us who could use a simple smile to brighten his day.

You listened to him.

Not only did you say, “Hi,” but you asked the loaded question, “How are you?” Perhaps, you weren’t expecting a detailed catalog of all the Minions and their unique characteristics or a list of voice actors from “The Lego Movie,” but you looked at him and listened to it all.

You hugged him.

Touch is very important to him. I think it assures him of acceptance by you. Isolation is his fear, as is the case with many of us, so a handshake, a hug or a high-five allow him to experience the human connection that any person may seek.

You invited him.

He seemed content to be alone, but you went out of your way to invite him to sit with you. Honestly, social situations are still challenging for him, so he probably felt awkward about accepting the invitation. Nonetheless, you took a courageous step with a seemingly simple kind gesture.

You became his friend.

He doesn’t have very many friends. In fact, if you asked him who they are, he would list names of family members: brothers, sisters, cousins, mom and dad. But you, he mentioned you. You became his friend.

Approaching someone who’s “different” can be intimidating. I understand that. After all, if you’re not crossing paths, why take the detour to intentionally go to that person? Why risk the potential awkwardness of the encounter? Would it even make a difference?

Yes, it does. It certainly does.

Follow this journey on Less to More.

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Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


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