Almost every school activity, including listening to teachers, interacting with classmates, singing along in music class, following instructions in physical education, etc, depends on the ability for students to process sounds and have a strong auditory system in learning. But what happens if this auditory system has deficits? Can a child still learn?
Does my child have Auditory Processing Disorder?
Auditory Processing (APD) is a very common learning disability and affects about 5% of school-age children. Auditory Processing can present itself with many different symptoms and behaviors. Often these behaviors resemble those seen with other learning challenges, like language difficulties, attention problems and autism. Most children with auditory processing difficulties show only a few of the following behaviors. No child will show all of them. However, any child who displays several of these symptoms should be carefully evaluated for auditory processing disorder.
- Delayed speech
- Persistent articulation errors
- Abnormally soft, loud, flat, formal, or “pedantic” speaking voice
- Difficulty conducting casual conversations
- Difficulty reading or spelling due to problems discriminating word sounds
- Difficulty following oral directions
- Difficulty organizing behaviors
- A tendency to appear quiet, distracted, or off topic during group discussions or to interrupt or blurt out answers
- Long delays before responding to questions or instructions
- Preferences for nonverbal tasks or a markedly higher performance IQ than verbal IQ
- Difficulty taking notes
- Worsening performance in higher grades as oral instruction load and receptive language demands increase
- Difficulties with inference, abstraction, and figurative language
- Difficulty hearing in the presence of background noise
- Difficulty understanding what’s said
- A tendency to ask for restatement or clarification, or repeatedly saying “what?” or “huh?”
- Marked difficulty understanding speakers with particularly high or low-pitched voices or with prominent accents
How does Auditory Processing affect my child’s learning?
Children with Auditory Processing Disorders have difficulties distinguishing the sounds or phonemes in spoken words, especially those in complex words and sentences. This is referred to as Auditory Discrimination Deficits. If a child has difficulties discriminating sounds in language, then words will sound unclear or distorted as well as many will sound alike. This in turn will affect a child’s development of language skills. They may have trouble speaking and listening, because of problems learning basic grammar and word meanings. Many vowel and consonant sounds may sound the same to them, especially when spoken quickly. As a result, not only will they have difficulty hearing the differences between words that sound alike (think, thing, sink, thin) they will also have difficulty understanding the connections between those words and the letters used to represent them.
This is why children with Auditory Processing Difficulties often have trouble with reading and spelling. Since they cannot hear the sound distinctions between words, the rules linking sounds to letters and letter groups can be hard for them to master.
Most children with Auditory Processing Disorder have difficulty hearing in the presence of background noise. This is referred to as Auditory Figure-Ground Deficits. Although the children often hear well enough at home or in quiet environments, they may appear hard of hearing or even functionally deaf in noisy environments such as school.
In the classroom, a child with Auditory Processing Deficits will have great difficulties staying focused on a listening task. This is referred to as Auditory Attention Deficits. If a teacher is giving a lecture, for example, the student might listen in for a few minutes but then drift of and daydream missing out on significant amounts of information.
Students with Auditory Processing Challenges have great difficulties remembering information given. This is referred to as Auditory Memory Deficits. If the teacher says, “get a piece of paper and a pencil out of your desk and write down your spelling words,” the student may get confused because there are too many commands at once. Impairments in the auditory memory deficits can severely weaken not only long-term memory but also language development and comprehension.
How can a child with Auditory Processing Disorder get help?
The sooner a child with Auditory Processing Disorder is given proper teaching strategies, particularly in the very early grades, the more likely it is that they will have fewer or milder difficulties later in life. These students will need a very structured, systematic, cumulative, repetitive and multisensory teaching method such as the Orton-Gillingham approach. By using a multisensory approach the student will be able to learn using the visual and kinesthetic modalities while simultaneously strengthening the auditory channels.
The best learning environment for a student with auditory processing is always one-to-one with very minimal distractions and outside noises. Students who have severe auditory processing disorder may need an intensive training program to catch up and stay up with the rest of their class. During this intensive training, students will overcome many reading, writing, spelling and comprehension difficulties and learn strategies that will last a lifetime.
Teachers and parents both need to remember that Auditory Processing Disorder is a real condition. The symptoms and behaviors are not within the child’s control. Children with Auditory Processing Disorder are not being defiant or being lazy. A child with Auditory Processing Disorder can go on in life and become just as successful as other classmates.
Photo by Elizabeth Albert