In My Own Words: Marc Russo
Imagine going through your day and only hearing part of what your friends and teachers say. How would you feel if you missed the punch line to the joke? Or imagine someone calling your name in a crowded cafeteria but not knowing where that sound came from.
Two to three percent of the population doesn’t have to imagine these situations, because they live them. They have auditory processing disorder (APD), a disorder that occurs when the ears and brain don’t fully coordinate. Someone with APD has trouble understanding directions, often cannot hear himself, and may have speech difficulties. He might smile and nod but miss out on the joke, or he might not respond when you call his name.
I know, because that someone is me. Every day with APD is a struggle. But if I am going to accomplish my goals, I know I have to take responsibility for this disorder.
In second grade, my teacher insisted I had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), saying, “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen.” My parents knew that wasn’t right, so we turned to Kennedy Krieger Institute for help.
After a series of diagnostic tests, a Kennedy Krieger audiologist diagnosed me with APD—not ADHD.
The staff at Kennedy Krieger designed a plan to help me succeed both in and out of the classroom. For example, the plan recommends I sit near the front of the class to see and hear my teachers more clearly. If teachers need to get my attention, the plan recommends they lightly tap me on the shoulder. And in some cases, the plan recommends teachers allow me extra time on tests.
Still, having this disorder doesn’t excuse me from anything. I dream of becoming a biomechanical engineer and building prosthetic limbs and artificial organs. To get to that point, I have to stay disciplined and focused.
I take action by minimizing distractions and choosing my activities carefully. For example, I am on a swim team and swim four to six days a week. Sometimes I cannot hear the coach giving directions, but it doesn’t stop me. I still work on improving as a swimmer and having fun competing.
I’m also one of the highest ranking officers in my Navy League Cadet Corps unit. I get to work with military officers, develop my leadership skills, and give orders to the newer cadets.
I learned one of my most important lessons while working with a Navy SEAL. He said, “The three keys to success are: have dreams, have discipline, and have fun.” At first, I didn’t understand what that meant. The more I thought about it, I realized those are words to live by.
If I am going to accomplish my dreams of becoming a biomechanical engineer and improving people’s lives, it will take self-discipline and focus. I have to remember not to doubt myself and that it takes time to meet my goals. Even though it’s a struggle to live with APD, it shapes who I am. I wouldn’t want it any other way.