Saturday, March 17, 2012

new confidence

For the past five years I've celebrated my birthday with my birthday buddy- a student I first taught when he was in first grade. Originally we baked a cake together but as the years have gone on it has been easier for me to just bake cupcakes the night before and the two of us find time to ice them together.
. Back then he spent most of his time with his sweat shirt pulled over his head, spoke in only one to two word utterances and rarely smiled. He was painful aware of the differences between him and his friends and as the years went on we felt like we watched him grow more and more inside himself. Last year as we iced our cupcakes he barely talked to me although the IA sitting in the room said she'd never heard him be so talkative.
He's now in fifth grade so this was our last chance at a joint birthday celebration.
Every time I've run into him this year he's seemed happy yet still a bit shy and reserved. As I was planning this adventure his special education teacher had mentioned that he'd gotten an FM system this week and that it was going really well. That didn't prepare me for the student that walked into my room on Friday.
There are various different types of sound field systems used in classrooms. Some, like the one in my class, is set up to amplify the speaker's voice for all the students. It makes the teacher's voice louder than the ambient noise in the classroom and makes it easier for the more distractible children to focus on the speaker instead of on chairs moving, the air conditioning, side conversations, and all the other noises that come with an elementary school classroom (for instance, in my room on Friday someone was yelling "NO KICKING!" over and over as he kicked.
There are other types of these systems that are more personal and connect the teacher's voice directly with one individual student. This is the kind my birthday buddy had.
I haven't actually seen him with the system so I don't know what he's like when it is in use, but I can tell you that since starting less than a week ago he is more articulate, speaks in louder sentences, seems more confident and in general just seems happier. Even when he wasn't wearing it. I couldn't believe that the kid in my room joking and smiling was the same kid who had been hesitantly volunteering in my room just two weeks earlier. His special ed teacher told me that the minute he put it on and heard his teacher's voice for the first time he lit up.
I am amazed at the change in one week and am thrilled that my buddy will go off to middle school with this new found confidence. I hate that it took us this long to figure this out for him.
When I taught him in first grade I'd actually just finished presenting at a national conference on using sound-field systems. It wasn't like I didn't know they were out there. Why it never occurred to me to try it on him I don't know. Where would he be if we had tried it earlier? What could he have been doing all this time?
He always struck me as smarter than he seemed- his visual skills are impressive and watching him play with blocks always shocked me- he seemed to have a strong understanding of how to piece different blocks together to come up with a solid structure. Yet his auditory memory was extremely weak. He could barely remember anything that was taught to him. Now we know it was most likely because he couldn't hear everything.
I don't know the full story on how he came to have an FM system but I am so thankful he has one. Even with all the research I have done and read on these systems I never would have suspected such a profound change within one week of its use. I love that his teachers seem to have unlocked a new child that was hiding inside of him for so many years.


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