Anatomy lesson: The Tragus

7 years ago

Since I'm not a big piercer, I had never been exposed to the word tragus.

But it's amazing sometimes to me, the power of a single word, at least for Pat of threatened-removal-of-atlas fame.  At the beginning of school this past fall, it was a maelstrom of issues for the boy.  All these changes in his world--including the cacophony that is the world of the Kindergarten classroom.

All summer, he insisted that no, he wasn't going to Kindergarten.  He'd just stay home with me. Not on your life, kid--I've been living for the day that you and Steph go to the same school. 

"But think, Pat of all that you'll learn in school!"  I say this, but I know I'm bullsh*tting him. I know what the gig is with Kindergarten.  He's already mastered the academic skills. forward to the first week.  I get phone calls almost every day from the teacher.  Pat's misbehaving--he's pushing kids and hitting them.   He's refusing to go to Music.  He won't participate in P.E.  He tells teachers "No."

It took a few days to figure out the main source of the issue.  Fire drills.  From the first day of school, they were prepping the kids for the fire drill.  They keep telling the kids how LOUD it will be, and how SERIOUS a fire drill is.  Fair enough, you say, both of those things are true.  I agree.  For regular kids.  But the problem for Pat was the constant reminders of the LOUDNESS and SERIOUSNESS of them.  It was throwing him way off-kilter.

The mere prospect of the fire drill was too much for him.  See, along with being highly intelligent, he's also highly sensitive.  Literally--this kid screamed and cried through the Happy Birthday song for his first four birthdays.  He hated loud sounds, loud music, loud spaces.  The anticipation of that horrendous honking fire alarm had the kid on pins and needles, just waiting for the auditory assault.

Add to that assault the following:  A typical kid will need to hear this stuff several times before it sinks in.  A kid like Pat:  Once.  That's it.    When people start going into robo-repeat, he gets irritated.  And because he's SIX not thirty-six, he has a hard time masking his irritation.  One of the several phone calls I got from his teacher that first week included a little tidbit about him telling the teacher that he heard her fire drill instructions THE FIRST TIME, and she can now stop repeating her self.

Which he then followed with a good ol' shove to the kid in line in front of him in line, while telling him to be quiet, it's a fire drill.  Telling the teacher to get stuffed quit repeating herself wasn't bearing any fruit.  So he's knocking around encouraging his classmates to listen up.  To end the robo-repeat.  Gah!

Every time he turned around that week, they were "practicing" for the impending fire drill.  And what was happening was that every time they 'practiced' he was waiting for the alarm to go off...with his adrenaline surging, he had a really hard time behaving himself.  He began associating each new "Special" (any class where they left their regular room...Art class, Music, P.E., library, etc.) with practicing the damn drill.   And he tried to avoid it.  Any. way. he. could.

Hence the phone calls.  So, I point out to the teacher that I see a common thread in the instances of misbehavior--the Fire Drills, and loud noises in general.

The music room, filled with 16 kindergartners and all manner of noisy instruments?  Seriously, I'm an adult, and I don't know how much of that I could manage.

The Gymnasium, all echoey, with 16 kindergartners running around screaming?  Was it any wonder that the only "Special" he was interested in attending was Library?

I gave him earplugs to keep in his backpack, so that when he was going to P.E. or music, he could put them in beforehand, in hopes that equipping with with a tool to combat the noise issue would help him maintain a little control over what was uncontrollable and excruciating noise.

It wasn't enough to lessen his obvious anxiety about the randomly timed fire alarms at school.  So, I showed him how he could push closed that little flappy thing in front of his ear canal to seal it up.  I showed him on my ear, cautioning him not to jam his fingers in there, using the logic that the little flappy thing is just the perfect fit to close the canal up tight.  I told him that if he couldn't get the earplugs, that closing the flappy thing could be his "backup plan".

This seemed to offer him some comfort, because he was dubious that the earplugs would always be where he could get at them if needed.

"Mom, what is that little flappy thing called?"

He then hopped up and grabbed his Rapid Review Anatomy book--it's right up there with the atlas--and he turned to the diagram of the ear.

That flappy thing?  It's called the Tragus.  From then on, Pat referred to it as such.

On the way out the door that morning, Pat followed his goodbye kiss with the proclamation,

"If I hear the fire alarm go off, I'll put my fingers over my traguses, close my ear canals and get in line!"

The bonus to this new plan?  When he's closing the old tragi, his hands are occupied--no more pushy-pushy action in the fire drill line!  Knowing the name of the flappy thing really seemed to be the key to increasing his comfort level and confidence in his own ability to control the loudness around him.

Which likely made his teacher's job easier.  Yeah, until that day he was so bored in "circle time" that he told her he wasn't going to listen to the story she was reading to the class and declared his intention to close each tragus and not listen at all.

As I's amazing the power of one little word.

I read a blog recently  by Queen of Shake-Shake, who refers to her kid as 'quirky'. She's also a very entertaining read on any topic, but I digress...  One thing that hit me while reading that entry (and the following comments) was the reminder that there is a DEARTH of information out there for those of us who have those gifted, quirky, highly intelligent and incredibly sensitive kids.  I'm inspired to make more of an effort to write about what it's like to navigate the world of parenting when your kid is not typical, but also not developmentally delayed.  Offline,I've been working on a writing project on this very subject. 
Do you develop 'back-up plans' to help your sensitive kiddo manage out in the world?  Share your tips and tricks! 


Just Margaret

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