Thursday, November 29, 2007

A FAT City Moment: Auditory Processing and Wait Time

Many of us know smart kids who believe that they are stupid. Dumb. Losers.
Some of them are the kind of kids that you just know have more than two brain cells to rub together, but the grades, the schoolwork, and the homework just doesn't reflect what we know is there. For those who have always done well in school, it is hard to imagine what might be going on with these kids, and they get 'teacher's lounge' diagnoses.

You know what they are: lazy, oppositional, a problem child, gorked, and, of course, BAD PARENTING.

It's hard to look at perfectly normal looking kid who is not succeeding and imagine that the problem may be organic rather than moral. It's harder for someone to put themselves in the shoes of such a 'normal' child than it would be for, say someone in a wheelchair. You know, somebody who looks the part, so to speak, when it comes to having a disability.
And sometimes, it's even difficult for us--the parents--who know full well what the problems are to walk a mile in our LD or AS or AD/HD kiddo's shoes.

I had one of those experiences today.
I do not normally think of myself as having a learning disability. After all, I am an academic, I learn fast and do well on tests. But I do have problems with word finding and auditory processing. It is not usually a problem--if I have time to think.

Today it was a problem.
I had a mouse brain anatomy test.
For tests on our human brains, we would go into the lab,and using real brains that we had dissected, we have gone from station to station and looked at where the pin was located in a brain, and named the structure. No problem. If I was stuck, I just went back to the station later. We could spend some time looking at the structure and thinking about it, and if I was having word finding problems, I could think until the word came to me.

Today, the test was different. We never dissected a mouse brain. We used pictures of sections to study. We were not given the names of the structures on the pictures, we had to go on the internet and find the list of structures. But I think I could have compensated for that. What killed my A in the class was the format of the test.

We gathered in the classroom. We were handed a sheet with numbers and blanks. A slide was flashed up on the whiteboard and the professor used a laser pointer to point to the structure in question. She's say something like: "What is this tract here?" Then, after about 15 seconds, it was on to the next slide.

Since I am slow at handwriting, I often could not even write down the whole name of the structure before we went on to the next one.
And when I could not immediately retrieve the word, I was, as we used to say, SOL.
I knew that structure she was pointing to, and that one, too! But the words were not coming fast enough to me. Soon I was getting the lines that I had skipped mixed up, and then I couldn't hear anything at all.
Then she had us exchange papers to grade them.
Boy, did I feel stupid.

Now fortunately, at my age, I understand that one grade in one class is not the most important thing in the universe. In fact, it is not even that important in my life, one of several billion human lives on a small planet a third of the way out in the arm of a rather commonplace galaxy.
And I have a lot of evidence that I am, despite my performance today, a reasonably intelligent person.

But imagine having such experiences day after day.
Imagine having them and being told that grades are the most important thing your life right now. Imagine being told that your scores on high-stakes tests show that you are stupid.
I can imagine beginning to believe that the ubiquitous "they" who says all of these things are right. I can imagine that such kids would easily come to believe every teacher's lounge label that is put on them.

Every now and then, we all need to have experiences to remind us of what some kids go through every day of their school lives.
Smart kids. But they are kids who, with whatever other IDEA label they might carry, have problems with auditory processing and working memory.

For these kids, a couple of very easy interventions would make a world of difference. One is to structure tests so that the auditory working memory component does not mask their knowledge. In other words, avoid oral tests.
The other is really simple and yet universally ignored.

Wait time. If you ask a question or do a quick verbal check to see if students "got it" during a lesson, wait a long time--at least a minute, and sometimes more depending on the complexity of the problem, and do not let anyone answer in that time.

I knew that the first structure was the nucleus accumbens, and in a less stressful, less auditorily focused situation--one in which the wait time was long enough, I would have gotten it. I just needed time.
But as the test went on and I became more and more stressed, I began to get more and more questions wrong. I could retrieve fewer and fewer words.
What was being tested was not my knowledge of mouse brain anatomy.
What was being tested was whether or not I have a learning disabiltiy.

For me, it is not a big deal. I have plenty of academic success to buffer the blow. I am at a point where I can shrug my shoulders and move on, because I know that I know the mouse brain anatomy.

But for a child who experiences these failures over and over again, and who is told that grades will determine his whole future, this experience can be devastating.

It is important for me to walk a mile in the LD shoes now and then.
In fact, it is important for all teachers to do so.
This is why going to a FAT City workshop can be helpful. Richard LaVoie, the one who facilitates them, simulates what it is like to have a learning disability. He is so good that he actually gets grown men and women to throw papers and books on the floor and have temper tantrums. And then they get it.

They say: "This is what my students are going through."

My FAT City moment today reminded me of why I took N. out of school altogether.
And it reminded me that I, too, need to continue to walk a mile in his shoes. Because I get impatient with his auditory processing probems sometimes, too.
Sometimes I cannot help but compare him to the other kids I read about on the homeschool blogs.

And today I got a healthy reminder that he knows a lot. But he shows me what he knows differently.
The point is that he knows it, not how he shows it.

NOTE: I edited this blog because I spelled FAT City as FATT City. So much for my spelling ability! Richard LaVoie's video about his FAT City workshops is entitled: F.A.T. City: How Hard Can This Be? F.A.T. stands for 'frustration, anxiety, and tension.' I just wanted to add 'tired' to the mix.


Noni Mausa said...

Thanks for this interesting post. As an adult ADDer (diagnosis pending because I don't have a sack full of dollars) it took me right back to my school days, but I'm feeling better now, thanks.

I googled "FATT City" and only found you and a tattoo parlour. Can you direct me to the one you meant?


momof3feistykids said...

It is interesting to me how many people make a snap judgment about a person's intelligence simply based on her response time when asked a question. Some people talk about "processing speed" as being a critical element of intelligence, as if we humans were a load of computer chips. When my oldest (with APD) was in public school, we had to coach her to say, "I need to think about that for a minute," and we had to coach the teachers to respect that. I see these issues in myself and my husband, too. I also find that I have more and more trouble with word retrieval as I hit middle age. *LOL*

Like the previous commenter, I am a self diagnosed adult ADDer (with mild APD to boot). I'll never be diagnosed, because our modest resources have to go toward the kids. But it is liberating just to understand these things.

Deborah said...

My children don't have ADD/ADHD, but I can still relate to your post because all three are visual learners, and none learned to read fluently before age 10. My almost 14-year old daughter just installed a new operating system on her computer (reading lots of complicated words in order to do this) two days or so after she asked me how to to help her read the word "firehouse". After years of intensive phonics. Sigh. The same kid who can memorize a long play in two sittings. How do you do that, I ask her. It's like watching a video in my head, she says, surprised that I lack that ability...

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

nono mausa: I meant FAT City, which is an exercise by Richard LaVoie. Sorry about the extra 't'!

Momof3: Intelligence and reaction time are correlated (0.2 - 0.4) at the neurological level, measured by the time it takes between seeing a image and pressing a button. It is also even more tightly correlated with the speed of action potentials on synapses.
An interesting study done recently using babySQUID technology, indicates that toddlers with AS show slower connection speeds between various sensory and motor centers in the brain. This kind of sensory-motor integration does not correlate with g (general intelligence) as far as anyone knows yet.

Generally, when testing for intelligence, psychologists take into account known disabilities when choosing tests, because the score will not accurately reflect g, otherwise. Instead it will reflect the person's disability on certain subtests.

Word retrieval tends to become a problem as people age, because auditory working memory becomes slower and less reliable. There is some evidence that this may not strictly be about working memory, but rather, executive functions in the pre-frontal cortex. Since IQ scores are normed by age, this does not affect scores.

Deborah: Yes, it is amazing. And I'll bet your kids would score high on the Ravens or the Naglieri non-verbal assessment.

Donna-Jean said...

I really appreciated this post. I try so often to get behind those beautiful brown eyes of my son, to try and see the world the way he sees it, to feel more of his frustration, rather than my own.

Great post - and a reminder again of why I homeschool him and his sisters (he's almost 15, and has always been homeschooled).

Angela said...

I wish all parents would take the opportunity to put themselves in their child's mind for a bit. I know it broadened my views tremendously, and I finally look to the future with her abilities in mind.