I should be an empty nester.
A little more than a year ago I envisioned missing my teenage son but also enjoying an array of selfish pursuits after he graduated high school. I’d work from home (uninterrupted), exercise and do more yoga, eat cereal for dinner (or skip the meal entirely), see friends, and travel with my husband. Admittedly, there’d be a tinge of satisfaction in knowing that I had adequately prepared my only child to spread his wings and fly.
Above average ACT score? Check. Solid GPA? Check. Check. Scholarship money and acceptance letters? Check. Check. Check. Having a teenager leave home is bittersweet, but it’s the end-game for childhood and the natural progression to raising a mature young adult, right?
My assumptions about the end of my son’s high school days were wrong
Up to and throughout high school, my husband and I had spent countless hours supporting our son in his dream of playing collegiate baseball. The summers of his childhood were not defined by boating trips and beach vacations. Instead, our family of three drove for hundreds of miles, ate fast food, stayed in 3-star hotels, and sat in the sweltering heat to cheer Mason on at random ball fields across the country.
It was rewarding. I wouldn’t go back and have it any other way. But with all those games came overuse of his right arm. Unfortunately, in December during his senior year of high school, screaming shoulder pain called for surgery. COVID, along with his arm issues, dashed all hope of our son getting recruited to play college baseball.
My son’s behavior changed and he became more withdrawn
My son was never a boisterous kid, but as the unpredictability of 2020 labored on, he became less confident and more withdrawn.
Before social distancing became mandatory and in-person doctor’s visits cancelled (last March), I took him to get evaluated by a child psychologist. For most of 12th grade, he was unusually tired and quiet, and he expressed little interest in dating or seeing friends. As a dedicated athlete, he was (and is) extremely health conscious. I thought it unlikely he was doing drugs.
The doctor concluded my son was suffering from depression; she suggested he might struggle with auditory processing disorder, too. What’s Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)? I asked. I can’t say how she responded, because I didn’t understand a word of her explanation. I’d heard of autism, ADHD, Asperger’s and more, but APD came out of left field.
As advised, we scheduled an appointment with an audiologist. A day of intensive testing confirmed the diagnosis: Our 18-year-old son had the signs and symptoms of APD.
What Is Auditory Processing Disorder?
It’s hard to find a lot online about APD in teens. Based on my research, here is how I define it: APD is a neurological condition that makes it challenging to understand, retain, and restate complex information. Listening to—and following—detailed directions is difficult; taking accurate class notes, practically impossible.
For some kids, APD has little to do with hearing, but it is a defect or lag in the way the brain processes speech. Often, APD is diagnosed in early childhood. Those who present later, as teens, start feeling overwhelmed by the time they hit high school, when complex subjects are taught verbally and sometimes at a rapid pace.
Speech therapists gave us paperwork to submit to his school, verifying my son’s disability. Thanks to his counselors and teachers, we quickly got him qualified for a 504 plan that provides learning accommodations in college.
His accommodations include additional time to take tests and testing in a quiet environment, plus access to detailed class notes, front row seats, and headphones (for in-class learning). A week after we filed the paperwork, schools closed in Dallas because of the pandemic.
My son’s friends missed the noisy, hectic and social environment of high school
Our son seemed relieved to be learning at home. I suspect he welcomed the quiet and the fact he wouldn’t need to seek constant clarification regarding tests and assignments. Fortunately, school was almost out for seniors. He had secured his grades with the help of tutors, and I felt like my weary kid had paid his dues.
Baseball and the senior prom got cancelled, and our son’s graduation ceremony morphed into a virtual event where the three of us sat at home and watched a presentation on the computer. Inside, I felt bad about the milestones missed.
Despite the challenge of his undiagnosed disability, our son graduated with honors, received a scholarship from the athletic booster club and a 2nd Team Baseball Academic All-State Team student athlete nod.
Knowing what I do now, I can’t fathom how he did it. In 9th grade, he had insisted on being enrolled in the prestigious International Baccalaureate Program, a highly lauded and notoriously rigorous curriculum. No wonder he was exhausted.
Looking back, there were signs
As I came to understand how APD affects learning comprehension and social skills, I recalled incidents concerning my son that I once found perplexing. In eighth grade, I remember him telling me he couldn’t concentrate in math class. He said it was loud, there were too many distractions and the other kids were disruptive.
Considering his diagnosis, that makes perfect sense. The principles taught in math had become more demanding, and the teacher was zipping through the course at a rapid clip. “Those who can’t keep up, fall behind,” he explained.
There was also a basketball game where my athletic son appeared uncharacteristically confused. If he was beginning to struggle with APD, it’s likely he couldn’t grasp the game plan shouted by the coach amid the sounds of the crowd, buzzer, and blowing whistles.
After eighth grade, he stopped playing football to focus solely on baseball. It’s a good thing. His disability would make it extremely challenging to comprehend play-calling on the field. I believe the reason my son can continue playing high-level baseball is because he has years of experience and the sport relies heavily on visual cues and hand signals.
We were relieved that we found the cause of our son’s distress, but what now?
There is no cure for APD. It is a condition that requires therapy that is tailormade to fit each patient’s unique challenges. For my child, that means ongoing work with a speech therapist to improve sound identification and overall communication skills, along with critical reasoning exercises and role-playing at home.
Given the shoulder surgery, pandemic and newly discovered disability, our 2020 high school grad opted to stay home and take a gap year. Spending time in therapy, working out to rehab his body, and maintaining his first serious part-time job have helped him mature. Summer collegiate baseball is around the corner. Fingers crossed.
Therapists emphasize that my son must learn to speak up and advocate for himself by telling coaches, teachers and friends about his hearing disability before they mistake his quiet nature for disinterest. That is hard for him, but it will be necessary for years to come.
In the meantime, my plan of doing more and cooking less can wait. My only child hasn’t yet left the safety of our nest and that is okay.
More about APD:
Diagnosis, Treatment and Management of Children and Adults with Central Auditory Processing Disorder (American Academy of Audiology Clinical Practice Guidelines)