Dysfunctional Consonant Differentiation

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1751, acrylic

Q: OK, why were you in special ed when you started school?

ReeL: People saw that I had problems talking.

Q: Hard to believe.

ReeL: For awhile there, when I was a kid it was pretty obvious something was a problem. What wasn’t clear was  what exactly was going on.  This has to do with the nature of the problem. It turns out it is a very difficult one to diagnose.

I never talk about it.  The problem involves processing mid-range sounds and it is inherited. It is hard for me to hear fully the human voice.

Q: How do you mean?

ReeL: I can’t distinguish between key sounds in spoken language. I mean, I hear something, there is no problem with volume.

Q: So a hearing aid doesn’t correct it?

ReeL: Yes, a hearing aid can’t correct it.  They can theoretically and they say the technology is getting close to that theoretical possibility. But outside certain specific pitches I have very good hearing, so if the hearing aid is not perfectly matched, it is unbearable. And part of it may have to do with something in the brain, so not a matter of input, but of processing that input.  It may be that I can’t sufficiently differentiate internally between certain sounds, especially in the tonal range covered by the human voice. So basically, it interferes with the reproduction and understanding of spoken language.  I do quite a bit of lip-reading.

Q: But you still hear.

ReeL: Oh, yes, in a way, fully. Just differently. It’s a type of mid-range sound distortion. Its genetic. I was born this way. I’ve never known anything different.  So when you’re young you don’t think anything is missing because you’ve never known anything different.  So you don’t think anything of it.

Q: So you would have no way of knowing when you were a kid that what you were hearing was different because for you, it was what you always heard.

ReeL: Yes, exactly. It’s fairly subtle. Fortunately that means it didn’t interfere with my ability to learn and pick up language overall. Just key sounds related to certain letters. I have more than enough differentiation to distinguish sufficiently to understand language, just like anybody else. Or at least almost like anybody else.

It does, however interfere with my ability to reproduce language, but only slightly, subtly. Primarily with certain consonants. It primarily affects sound that underlies some consonants. Enough that it was noticed by others as a problem when I entered school.

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