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CAPD and Languages
Q: Our third-grader, who has CAPD, attends a Hebrew day school. Will learning two different languages (English and Hebrew) be too much to ask of her? She's been holding her own, even though we had to hire a Hebrew tutor for the last two years. We know the work and tests will become longer and more complicated. We want to keep her in her current school, but we don't want to put too much pressure on her.
A: A Central Auditory Processing Deficit (CAPD) makes processing any language more challenging, especially as the content gets more complex. However, kids with CAPD can and do learn more than one language, so the diagnosis should not automatically translate into a language waiver or the departure from an educational and cultural environment that you value. Learning the mechanics of the language should be easier than using the language as a means of verbal communication, so your daughter's early learning of the language (e.g., vocabulary and simple sentences) should go fairly well.
However, as the curriculum gets more difficult, the language demands also increase. Her teachers (and I presume her friends) will be using more Hebrew, and your daughter will be put in situations which require her to process the language more rapidly and efficiently. She may continue to need help to navigate this confusing verbal environment.
Here's the key: If your daughter is as competent in Hebrew as she is in English, then she should have about the same level of ease (or difficulty) in both languages. If this is the case, then being in a bilingual program should be difficult, but manageable. If, however, her English is better than her Hebrew, then listening to and comprehending Hebrew will be an increasingly difficult challenge. That still doesn't mean she won't be able to do it, but it will be hard. What's important is that both the English and Hebrew instructors understand CAPD and make reasonable modifications in their presentations to make it easier for your daughter to make sense of the language that's used in the classroom. Augmenting verbal presentations with visual aides (pictures, transparencies, PowerPoint, etc.) and gestures or physical props will be extremely helpful. This is especially important for teachers who have accents that might compound your daughter's difficulties processing spoken language.
If the faculty needs to learn more about CAPD, you should find out if the administrative organization that supports the school has made a commitment to infusing special education into both the religious (Hebrew) and secular components of the curriculum. Having to leave a school because two languages are too difficult to learn is understandable. Having to leave because teachers are not provided with the support they need to provide a proper learning environment (in any language) for a child with CAPD would be regrettable.
Teachers need to know about how to arrange the classroom so that your daughter is seated in a place from which she can clearly hear the sound of a teacher's voice. They also need to minimize auditory distractions, such as pencil sharpeners, mechanical devices, or noisy fan motors, in the classroom. The use of a study carrel to reduce distractions can be helpful as well. Also, teachers might consider using rugs or floor mats and cloth poster boards on classroom walls to absorb ambient (background) noise. Structured classrooms are generally better for kids with CAPD than an open classroom setting. If the classroom is particularly active, you might want to consider the use of an FM system (personal or classroom) to better transmit the teacher's voice to your child's ears.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.