Sunday, February 20, 2005

On raising a child with disabilites, part 4: Pragmatic Language Deficit—the literal inability to know what to say when

The kids in Hebrew School got annoyed with him because he talked down to them during break time as if he were the teacher—his language was far too formal.

He drove us nuts because he would pun when we were trying to have a serious discussion with him. With adults, his English was often far too informal.

He once bombed out of an elementary-school interview because he made a tasteless joke.

He routinely offended people unintentionally.

Our son couldn’t understand what style of language was appropriate under what circumstances.

And the most shocking part about it was that no one diagnosed this problem until he was almost 11, despite the fact that he has a mild-to-moderate hearing loss in both ears and had been seeing speech therapists since he was three years old.

Everyone knew that he wasn’t really emotionally disabled—they just couldn’t figure out what he was. That’s why he got the label—it was the only way to get him the help that he needed. And that’s why he kept the label, too, even after he’d been properly diagnosed—it was the only way to continue to get him the help that he needed. When we finally got him into a decent program, and his new school sent him home with a letter saying that he’d be taking a special class in pragmatic language skills, we practically cracked open a bottle of champagne in celebration—in all of his previous years in special ed., no one, other than the speech and language pathologist who finally diagnosed him, had ever even mentioned the term “pragmatic language skills,” much less actually done anything to improve them.

Was having our child labeled Emotionally Disabled for well over a decade rough on our egos? Yes.




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