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Journey with Ryan – My son with an Auditory Processing Disorder

My Journey with Ryan

by Barbara Gustavson


Like many people I love to travel, go to new places, try new things.   But there is a different journey some of us go on, one that the road traveled on has unexpected twists and turns.

For me, that journey is being a mother of two children with mild special needs; my oldest with left hemiparesis (mild form of cerebral palsy) and my youngest son with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) also with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism.   I’d like to share about my journey with my youngest son and his experiences with APD, his struggles and his triumphs.


Ryan was a full-term baby, no complications during pregnancy or delivery, but the first few months he had a swallowing disorder and severe reflux which he later outgrew.  He was a very bright boy and could put together lego kits with the small pieces at age 2, just by following the picture instructions.

He was unusual in his way of thinking, and as a toddler he would ponder the meaning of life and “why are we in this world” and had a perspective I’ve never encountered before.   But approaching his 5th birthday, we became concerned of several things, one of which he was still not toilet trained.   I had tried everything I could think of but he just was not “getting it”.   He was also very distractible, fixated on things of interest and difficult to pull him out of his own “little world”.   Often when we spoke to him he seemed not to hear us or be aware of us until we were right in front of him.

He did not have a history of ear infections but he did have a chronic build up of clear fluid.  The doctor would prescribe antibiotics to get the fluid out, yet it kept returning.   He also had asthma which meant many visits to the emergency room, even with medications and nebulizer on hand.   He would be in kindergarten soon, so we were pretty motivated at that point to find out if there were any underlying issues that could be causing some delay.

We took him to a specialist, and it was discovered that his ear fluid buildup had caused some hearing loss in both ears.  We were told that he probably had this fluid for several years.   His adenoids were also enlarged and causing a significant blockage that caused his sleep apnea.  

So we had his adenoids removed and tubes put in his ears, his hearing returned and within 2 weeks of surgery, he was completely toilet trained.   Ryan began to talk more, and hear sounds he hadn’t heard before.   We thought that this was the end to his struggles, but we were not prepared for the continued journey ahead.

During his elementary school years, Ryan struggled a lot in the classroom and at home, socially and with sensory problems when there was too much noise, when the lights were too bright or when there were certain smells near him.   But we also noticed that he was not learning when teaching material was presented in an auditory way, he would get frustrated then misbehave or have meltdowns.

His grades were average, but for the amount of work he put into things, we felt he should be doing much better.   The school did not feel he had enough of a delay and we did receive any support from them or the county.


He fell further and further behind each year, and so we made the decision to have him tested privately in the 3rd grade.

The psychologist gave him several diagnoses and recommended we have him medicated for ADHD.   But he did not fit the profile; yes he was sometimes excitable and distracted but in the right environment he was able to complete the thought process which those with ADHD cannot do.  But what did catch my attention on the test scores was there was an enormous difference between his visual and auditory learning.

It was so big that his auditory learning almost did not exist, yet his hearing was fine.   It showed that he had exceptional problem solving and reasoning skills when presented something in a visual way.

It was at that point that I realized that Ryan’s learning struggle was not a disability but a gift, and he just happened to learn in a different way.

My goal then became to find a teaching style that met his learning style.  This was a challenge since we were not receiving support from the school system, so we decided to enroll him in a private school where we were assured they would meet his needs.

Unfortunately this did not happen, they made very few accommodations and would not give him a grade higher than a “C” because they felt they were giving him special treatment, even though the quality of the work he turned in was the same as an “A” or “B” student.   His teacher also presented the lessons in a lecture format and expected the students to take notes while she was speaking.   For a traditional learner this is no problem but someone with APD, they cannot process much of what is being said and write it on paper.   Ryan continued to fall behind with his esteem falling too.

The following school year I decided to homeschool him.   We also brought him to a local learning center twice a week that helped kids with APD and other learning disorders.

During the first year of homeschooling, Ryan was able to get caught up on all his subjects and accelerated in math and science and his confidence greatly increased.

He also received a formal diagnosis of APD from Dr. Lucker, a pioneer in identifying several types of APD.

Several years after Ryan completed his therapy, it was confirmed by an audiologist that I too have APD.  So I look back on our homeschool experience and realize that it was to our advantage for me to teach Ryan because I am a very similar type of learner as he.

There have been times I have felt helpless and discouraged that Ryan had to struggle so hard, and often felt we had no choices in our situation.   But I now realize we did have a choice on how we took our journey.


We could have chosen to stop moving and go nowhere, but that would have meant my son would wither and become lost in the overwhelming sea of our world.

So we decided to move forward, sometimes proceeding with extreme caution and sometimes moving at a quicker pace.   But we’ve also decided to make frequent stops along the way in order to enjoy life, have fun and laugh more, and also to pause and be thankful for God’s diversity in his creation.

I’m so glad I was picked to be Ryan’s mom, he is my hero and has taught me so many life lessons that I continue to learn daily.


– Ryan resides with his family in Fredericksburg, VA and is now attending a remedial school that is helping prepare him to be mainstreamed back into a traditional school during high school.   He has overcome many of his APD struggles, and is now assisting other children in his class that are struggling, and also helps children with autism in the community.  
His hobbies are playing soccer, video games, programming and game design.

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