How Old is Hallie?

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Sunday, March 7, 2010


Well, it took several phone calls and a six week wait, but we finally got a copy of the speech evaluation that Hallie had done at CHOP back in mid January.

We think the therapist who did the speech evaluation was quite wonderful (coincidentally she was the same person who did the eval for Hallie back when Hallie was 18 months old and said nothing, so overall she was very impressed with how far Hallie had come). We wish she had room on her schedule for Hallie to see her since we've heard very good things about her capacity to treat kids who are similar to Hallie. But the folks responsible for setting up the evaluation and getting us feedback from it could not have possibly been more disorganized than they were. First, it took about three and a half months to actually get an appointment for an evaluation at CHOP. I called the last day in September, CHOP called me back the first week of November, and set up the appointment for their very first opening, which was late January. The wait itself was maddening, but what was even more maddening was that the scheduler kept changing the appointment on us. She'd regularly call us to cancel the original appointment and say stuff like 'But we just had a cancellation for this morning? can you come over right now?' Of course it proved impossible to drop everything and run to Voorhees, NJ (we couldn't even get in to CHOP's main hospital in Philly for an evaluation---the wait there was interminable). Finally, after much back-and-forth (I think they changed the appointment on us four times) and about nine different phone conversations about insurance coverage, we did manage to find a new slot that actually worked and Sharon brought Hallie in to meet D. Sharon was given a verbal report of part of the evaluation and reported back to me that Hallie was ahead in terms of her expressive language but behind in other respects.

Of course, how behind is the big question, and this is something we could not answer until we got the formal evaluation. And when I opened the thick envelope with the write up last Saturday, I was a bit shocked.

Here's what the final verdict was:

First test: Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals--Preschool (2nd ed) (CELF-P:2)

Average range subtest Scaled Score: 7-13 (mean 10)
Average range Composite Scaled Score: 85-115 (mean=100)
Mean Percentile Rank=50

Hallie's scores:

Subtest: Sentence structure: scaled score 6; percentile rank: 9. Age equivalent: under 3
Subtest: Word Structure: scaled score 6; percentile rank: 9. Age equivalent: under 3
Subtest: Expressive Vocabulary: scaled score 11; percentile rank 63. Age equivalent: 4.2

Core language score: scaled score: 86; percentile rank: 18

Second Test: Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language (CASL):

Subtest: Pragmatic judgment: standard score 80 (mean score of 100, average rank is 85-115). percentile rank: 9%. Age equivalent: 2.7

The summary assessment written up by the therapist concluded that "Hallie presented as an adorable girl with a complex medical history for prematurity and a recent diagnosis of High Functioning Autism/Asperger's Syndrome. Hallie's performance on standardized teesting revealed just below-average to average receptive and expressive language skills on standardized testing with difficulties in pragmatic language constructs. Strengths in expressive vocabulary skills were noted. Hallie displayed age-appropriate articulation abilities, representing significant progress. Hallie displayed reduced grammatical/morphological complexity. Comprehension decreased as the length and complexity of the oral message increased. Hallie demonstrated a below-average ability to make pragmatic judgments when provided with social scenarios. Hallie exhibited the pragmatic language functions of labeling, requesting, answering/responding. Hallie also displayed a strong awareness of polite terms during today's assessment. Hallie had difficulty greeting, commenting, and asking for informatio. Hallie demonstrates reduced awareness/use of non-verbal language constructs in social contexts. With respect to voice, vocal hoarseness, breathiness, and a soft vocal intensity were observed."

There's a lot more accompanying verbiage, but what it amounts to is this: Hallie knows a heck of a lot of words, and she more or less uses them appropriately. Her spoken vocabulary is above average, and is equivalent to that of a 4 year and 2 month old. But her comprehension (receptive language), sentence structure, and pragmatics (capacity to use language to communicate) are well below average and land her in the 9th percentile consistently, which means that 91% of kids her age communicate better and can follow along more easily with what is being said much easier than she can. The two go hand in hand from what I can tell: if you have no idea what is going on around you (you are not comprehending the conversations you hear, the instructions you are given, etc), you cannot really communicate with others very well, either because a good half of communication involves listening to others, interpreting what they are saying, and responding to them. So while Hallie absorbs a lot of words (nouns and verbs, in particular, and concrete ones more easily than abstract ones), and is generally using 3 to 6 word sentences with great frequency, she can't really/doesn't really interact with her environment. And given that interaction is less important for Hallie than it is for other kids who are much more engaged with the people in their environment, this seems to me to be a problem that compounds itself--rather than resolves itself--over time.

We are working on helping Hallie build the developmental scaffolding that she needs to interact with others in Floortime but progress is sometimes maddeningly slow. Hallie is still pretty reluctant to do imaginative, pretend play and especially has trouble 'acting out' other characters. She will often set up her doll house family or her Wonder Pets figures in various configurations but is resistant to the idea of having them play out a scenario, for example. And she needs to be able to do these things so that she can understand perspectives outside of her own.

So how are we going to handle all of this, other than panicking (which is of course a strength of mine!)? We just started Hallie in private speech therapy and so hopefully this will help a bit. We are also going to try to get her into a social skills/peer buddy class (preferably the inclusion one run at her preschool in the afternoons). This is one of those expenses that will be completely out of pocket and a bit hard to swing. The ideal would be a three-times-a-week group but we'll settle for once a week if that's all we can swing. We'd love to get a social skills group included in Hallie's upcoming IEP, but we don't have a huge amount of faith that Elwyn is going to give us what we think Hallie needs (even if there are a lot of evaluations that tell them that a social skills groups is appropriate for Hallie). At least, they won't give it to us without a fight is my bet.

The other thing that we are going to begin doing this week is an Integrated Listening program. We are pretty sure that Hallie has Central Auditory Processing Disorder and that this keeps her from making sense of what she hears. Hallie's hearing is fine, but she has trouble filtering out significant sounds from insignificant sounds. At least in part this is because her ears don't coordinate well enough with one another. Integrated listening is supposed to help with sensory integration generally. And we are lucky en0ugh to have a cousin-in-law who is an OT who has lent us her integrated listening materials so that we can give this program a try at home. Hallie loves wearing headphones and is particularly excited about the spiffy new Sennheisers that we've gotten her for this purpose. I'm pretty sure she's the first kid under 4 on the block with her own audiophile headphones.

So we're working on things. But I'd be lying if I said that all of this is not frustrating. Hallie is making a lot of progress. She is beginning to work on her emotions, which is fabulous because she is often more engaged with others than she used to be (even if that also means she's frustrated a lot more and occasionally given to manifesting her aggression by knocking down her little sister or exploring the implications of ramming her play shopping cart into the other kids at school). But we also know how much of a struggle things are for her and how quickly things tend to fall apart , particularly on days when she does not get quite enough sleep, enough food, is having a reaction to something she's eaten, etc.

But we'll keep on keeping on because that's what we do best around here, and we'll try to remember that, even though Hallie is far behind in some respects, she's advanced in others and that, hopefully, the work that we are doing will help her close this gap.

1 comment:

Trisha said...

You'll have to let me know how the listening therapy goes and what, if any, changes you see. C's OT strongly recommended that he do it. We started it back in November, but he can't stand wearing the headphones and I felt the battle to get him to wear them defeated the purpose (kind of like holding him down while brushing him). I did get him to wear them/listen again one time last week, but not again since then....sigh...