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Today is the big day. We have Dexter’s speech assessment with the county. This will determine his educational future. If they think it is necessary, he will be seeing a speech therapist to work on bringing him in line with his peers. His hearing issues have unfortunately meant that he is struggling with elocution, and because he still has a hearing deficit, he isn’t learning proper pronunciation as fast as he should. 

All that said, there has been a MASSIVE improvement in his speech since his surgery in December, and I personally think he has made great strides. He is attempting to repeat sounds much more, and I think that with or without help from the county, he is going to be just fine. But since the professionals know better than I do, I am keen to hear their opinions.

I wrote the previous this morning to friends and family on Facebook. We’ve been waiting for this appointment for a while, ever since our follow-up hearing assessment six weeks ago, when we were told that the 40 dB hearing loss he’d had pre-perforated eardrum and  pre-surgery was now borderline normal at only 10dB loss. He was given the go-ahead by the audiologist to proceed with any speech therapy that might be useful to him.

I’ve already written about Dexter’s garbled speech and the fact that he was a bit difficult to understand at times, so we went into the appointment knowing that he might need some extra help before he is school age so that he can be on the same level as other kids his age. But there was a small, arrogant part of me that believed that they would do the assessment and say, “Your kid is obviously a genius and WAY ahead of other kids. Don’t worry. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

We drove out to Lake Alfred for the assessment, as that is where the Polk County Pre-K testing center is. I thought for a moment we were being let down by our GPS, as it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere outside of a small community trailer park. But when we rolled up, I saw the sign that let us know we were in the right place, and Mark and I walked down the long corridor with Dexter and his stuffed Jake doll for a meeting with destiny.

Polk County pre-K testing center

Dexter was in a pretty good mood, mostly because Daniel had to go to daycare today, and he got to spend the morning alone with mommy. In fact, he’d spent a good portion of the morning drawing on his mini MagnaDoodle, little figures of me and of himself.

mini magnadoodle self portrait

I’ll be honest, I think he’s a frickin’ artistic genius, and I was super impressed by his little drawing. I actually shed a couple of tears (blame hormones!) over that adorable portrait!

Anyway, once inside the center, we were met by a lovely lady named Kathy who showed us into a little empty classroom and asked us to settle in while she got the paperwork sorted. She left us alone for a few minutes, and Dexter happily started to play with some of the educational toys on offer. He took great delight in a set of magnetic numbers, which he very cleverly identified by himself. He counted each one and put a few in order before deciding he just wanted to line them up willy nilly instead.

Child playing with numbers

As I watched him happily playing, I again thought to myself, “This kid is so bright and so on the ball. I’m kind of embarrassed to be wasting their time with these tests. Clearly he has no problems at all.”

When Kathy came back, she was accompanied by Shannon, who said she’d be performing the tests. She introduced herself to Dexter and had him smiling in seconds, and when she held out her hand, he took it and followed her into a little room, where she began assessing him immediately.

speech and language assessment

As Kathy talked to us about our rights as parents, and what the program offers should Dexter be deemed a good fit, Mark and I kept one ear each open toward the assessment. We were both grinning at each other, as we heard him answering questions and doing little projects. He was getting lots of praise, and as I glanced at him, I could see him with a big smile on his face.

Kathy had me sign a few papers, and then she said that Shannon would finish testing him and give us the results at the end. We thanked her, and she left quietly. We continued to listen to Dexter and Shannon, and at one point, Mark mouthed to me, “I’m so proud!” I knew what he meant. I was sure the kid was acing it.

Soon enough, they came out of the room, and they went to a large piece of tape on the floor. Shannon demonstrated little physical things she wanted him to do. Jump from one side to the other, walk in a straight line along the tape. Stand on one foot. Dexter concentrated hard to try and get it all right, and I gave a silent giggle as I watched him teeter around. It was kind of adorable.

testing toddler balance

Then Shannon sat him on a chair and used a strange device to look into his eyes for a vision test. Every time she asked him to open his eyes, he’d squeeze them shut, which made it a little difficult, but it was too cute for words. Again, I found myself silently giggling.

testing toddler vision

Finally, the assessment was over, and Shannon excused herself, saying she had to go and add up the score, and she’d be back to discuss the results. Of course, Dexter took the opportunity to play, finding a treasure trove of fun toys in a special room.

Playing with colorful toys

While she was gone, Mark slipped into the assessment room and saw a sign on the wall which said that the total possible points for a 3 year old in this assessment was 25. With that information in my head, I silently contemplated what his score might be. I really wasn’t sure how scoring was done, but I assumed he’d not get a perfect score. I’d heard him answer “I don’t know” to some of the questions earlier, and I knew that he could often get flustered if he didn’t know the answer to something. I imagined he’d probably score somewhere around a 19 or 20. Maybe an 18, depending on if they asked him any difficult questions.

Shannon returned, and we sat down for the results. She explained each part of the assessment process.

She had taken some blocks and built simple structures like a tower or a bridge, and she asked him to build the same thing. He did GREAT. For two out of three of them.

She asked him how many blocks she held in her hand. Instead of answering “2,” he counted them out loud, “1, 2.”

She asked him about objects and their colors and functions. A ball was a “bouncy ball,” and he couldn’t reliably identify the color, though she wasn’t sure if she was simply mishearing him. But he didn’t understand functions at all. She showed him a button, and he didn’t know the word for it, though he held it up to his shirt to demonstrate that he understood what it was. He identified it as the wrong color. And when she asked what it does, he simply dropped it.

She asked him to copy her simple drawings. He did well with a vertical line. But when she tried to get him to draw a horizontal line, he failed twice. She asked him to draw a circle, showing him how, and he could not master it. She drew a cross for him to copy, and he couldn’t complete it. She explained he also holds his pencil in a “fisted grip,” meaning he holds it by the top end in a fist, rather than the way you’re supposed to hold it.

She said that his speech is not only garbled, but his actual language is delayed. He should be farther along at this age.

His motor skills were lacking, as well. He was unable to keep to the straight line on the floor, and when he stood on one foot, he could only hold it for three seconds, which is apparently not as good as what he should be doing.

All in all, his results identified some significant developmental delays. His final score?


pre-k assessment test results: fail

Not the 20 I’d thought, nor even 19 or 18. Not a teen at all. A ten. And so my heart hurt, and I felt like a failure. How did I let him get so far behind? The kid is so bright and LOVES to learn. He loves to understand things, and he is so proud when he receives praise for something new. And yet, he’s struggling. And truly, I had no idea.

He will be having a more in-depth assessment next month to determine exactly what his special needs are, and we will then make the decision on what the next steps are. It is likely he’ll be starting preschool to get the hands on help he needs before “real” school starts. We have time to turn this around, and whatever happens, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a bright star in my life.

I believe it is the hearing problems that have caused him to fall behind, and we have those under control now. I’ve no doubt that with time and patience and extra work, we can get him caught up without ever making him feel defeated. He will get the best help we can get for him, and we will work with him at home to make learning as fun as possible so that he never feels discouraged or like he’s not good enough.

God, that’s just my worst fear right now… that he’ll imagine he’s not good enough. And that we will forget that he’s a kid and focus so much on catching him up to where he’s “supposed” to be that we will keep him from enjoying this time as a toddler.

I will be scouring Pinterest and other sites for good educational games and activities, and I’d LOVE to hear any ideas anyone may have on how to keep him happy and learning.

For now, I just keep this phrase in my heart and in my head:

Live Simply, Dream Big. Be Grateful. Give Love. Laugh Lots.

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Tuesday 29th of April 2014

My sister struggled with hearing when she was little, she had a lot of ear infections which affected her hearing. She did fall behind a little at school but once it was picked up on, and with lots of hard work she caught up and it has never held her back. Sending hugs


Friday 18th of April 2014

I would say that at this point, try not to worry too much. He is still so young and there is still plenty of time for him to catch up (lots of kids hold their pencils like that, by the way. Fine motor skills activities are good for that). BUT there is plenty you can do at home. Play play and play some more. Just like you do. Children have a wonderful way of learning so much if they are given the chance to explore creatively and in a fun environment. You have every faith that Dexter is bright and inquisitive so that perception of him has no reason to change just because someone marked 'failed' on a form. x x x x


Friday 18th of April 2014

Mama - your baby is fine! My son is 4 and he can't draw a perfect circle or name all his colors or even count to ten without stumbling. Everyone moves at their own pace. Keep happy and don't let this little thing get you down.


Friday 18th of April 2014

Like others have said, your son is going to be fine. You are a great mother, and he is very loved and taken care of. Don't worry about what others say or do. Just be happy he is such a good kid. The rest will fall into place.

David Ford

Thursday 17th of April 2014

Good morning Ms. Reed,

I am not one to normally post comments, however, your story really portrays how broken not only our educational system is, but our standards of social acceptance as well. I would not beat yourself up too hard over this ordeal. First and foremost, comparing a child to a "standard" is horrendously absurd. Children, especially at his age, develop at highly varying degrees. I would take any 'standard' so called experts have developed to categorize a child with a grain of salt. Intelligence cannot truly be measured by any means, and if your child thinks differently than the 'norm', heck, I would take that as the best compliment one can get! If your child is happy and playful and loves life, then don't worry about it. It seems you are quite caught up on the social stigma of the situation more than what really matters; the happiness of your child. The love, compassion, and time you give him is more important than whether he fits a 'social norm' or is supposedly behind on his development. Everything will fall into place as it should as far as his learning and developmental ability goes-- in time. In fact, you do not need to be a genius to be successful at life; I am also quite sure genius children get bad scores on those types of tests just as well. I have no faith in any 'expert' or any 'test' that tries to qualify a child's developmental limitations and categorizes them either positively or negatively. Life is a bit more complex than quantifying a child's limitations against a 'standard', but it is what gets the State's money and gives these experts a job. Whatever floats their goat I guess...Good Luck!

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