What You Didn’t Know About Listening

Auditory Processing. What is it? How can you support children who may have it? This blog post will answer those very questions my eager parents and educators.

But before we launch into the how, let’s clarify the terms hearing, listening and Auditory Processing.

  • Hearing is simply our ability to take in sound.

  • Listening is focussing on the sounds that we want to hear and blocking out the sounds that aren’t important.

  • Auditory Processing is the brain’s ability to process, store and respond to this incoming auditory information.

Even with perfect hearing, a child can still experience difficulties listening. That’s because it’s not only the ears that need to work well, the brain does too.

In the process of sorting and organising incoming sounds, if it all becomes a jumble in the brain, effective listening is not possible. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) and Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) are two terms used to describe an individual who can hear well but who cannot process auditory information easily and automatically.

Signs of Auditory Processing Challenges

  • Difficulty retaining verbal information such as instructions

  • Needs words and information to be repeated frequently

  • Speech and language difficulties; challenges recognising speech sounds and organising the sequence of sounds within words

  • Difficulty participating in conversations, particularly in noisy environments such as a classroom

  • Needs face to face contact for understanding spoken language

  • Trouble locating the direction from which sound is coming

  • Poor reading, writing and spelling

  • History of middle ear infections

  • Significant pauses when listening to others speak; confused/slow to process what is said

  • Disorganised

  • Hypersensitive to particular sounds

  • Difficulty with peer relationships; a tendency to either withdraw (‘I can’t follow what is happening so I think I’ll shut down’) or become bossy (‘when I’m the boss I can actually understand what is going on’).

Now that you know what to look for…

Teaching Strategies in a Preschool or Classroom Setting

  • Seat the student at the front of the class

  • Face the student when speaking, they need to see your lip movements and your non-verbal cues to understand your message

  • Make sure that you are using intonation in your voice, this provides your student with additional cues as to the content of your words

  • Address the student by name to get their attention before giving an instruction or asking a question

  • Observe the child’s facial expressions and body language during learning experiences to gauge their level of understanding

  • Only give 1-2 instructions at a time. The following example is very common in a Junior Primary classroom but will overload a student with APD/CAPD: “quietly tiptoe to your table, sit down, find a blank page in your literacy book and begin to write your story”.

  • Provide visual/written cues for all instructions so that this information can be referred to as prompts one at a time. For example, a sequence of laminated pictures at the front of the classroom or on the students desk would make the verbal list of instructions used in the example above a lot less overwhelming (picture 1: a child sitting at a desk, picture 2: literacy book, picture 3: blank page, picture 4: pencil writing). Interactive Whiteboards are great for this purpose too.

  • After setting a task, individually approach the child and ask them to describe what they need to do. This will clarify the task for the student and highlight if you need to give them further prompts.

  • Minimise background classroom noise as much as possible; encourage quiet student working (yes, we know how hard this can be!); turn off Interactive Whiteboards when not in use instead of using the blank screen function; consider turning off heaters/air conditioners at whole class learning times

  • Keep verbal communication short and simple if the student has an associated speech and language delay, as this will aid efficient processing of language.

  • Provide ‘wait time’ between what you say and the anticipated student response. Repeating what you say, even if word for word identical, will mean that processing will recommence at the beginning.

  • Suggest the use of an amplified device if needed (this involves the teacher wearing a small microphone that amplifies their voice above that of the background classroom noise)

  • Maintain good communication with the student’s parents as to their progress or continuing difficulties within the classroom

Home Strategies for Parents

  • Consider seeking a formal diagnosis once your child is 7 years old. If confirmed, the school will be required to put in place a Negotiated Education Plan (NEP). The document details the classroom modifications that will be made for your child and is reviewed regularly through meetings with yourself, teaching staff and the leadership team.

  • Don’t waste valuable time waiting until your child is 7 years old to get help. Use this time in the lead up to an assessment wisely.

  • See your child’s GP to exclude the possibility of ear infections, which may instead be the cause of poor listening skills.

  • Investigate possible links between your child’s diet and listening difficulties. Frequent ear infections, runny noses, a nasally voice and being a mouth breather (observe during sleep) are indicators that allergies and intolerances may be an underlying cause of poor auditory processing.

  • Try not to regularly have the radio or TV on in the background at home or in the car. The additional noise may overstimulate or exhaust your child.

  • Gently touch your child or say their name to get their attention before speaking to them or asking them a question.

  • Face your child when speaking to them. They are then able to observe your lip movements and non-verbal cues to reinforce what you are saying.

  • Use intonation in your voice. This will reinforce the content of your words.

  • Check that your child has understood what you have said or what you have asked him/her to do.

  • Only give 1 or 2 instructions at a time. Rather than saying “brush your teeth, then pack your bag and put your shoes on ready for school”, make a written or pictorial list showing the sequence of steps needed for a school morning. When referring to the chart, your child will be able to get ready independently while developing a sense of achievement (and the best bit, it’ll take the responsibility off you!).

  • Understand that APD/CAPD causes difficulties both in and out of the classroom. If your child is demonstrating challenging behaviours at home, don’t presume that they are being defiant. The behaviour is more likely to be connected to their auditory difficulties.

  • Stay in touch with your child’s teacher/s to keep up to date with classroom progress and/or continuing difficulties.

  • Provide your child with plenty of unstructured time at home to recharge. The world is an exhausting place when you have auditory challenges.

  • Time to relax in solitude may be necessary before attempting homework on school nights. If you insist that homework is done as soon as you get home, you may have a battle on your hands!

  • Learn as much as you can about Auditory Processing.You are your child’s advocate and information is power!

  • Investigate treatment options. Movement programs, chiropractic care and sound therapy can improve the function of the Central Nervous System, which in turn improves the brain’s ability to process auditory information.

  • Remind yourself of the great job that you are doing and organise to have a child-free break where possible. Just like your child, it is important that YOU have time to recharge!

True listening is dependent on sophisticated systems and processes in the body. For many children, it is not as simple as ‘switching on your ears’. Sadly many bright children are struggling in the world due to unrecognised auditory processing challenges.

To listen to an audio simulation of APD, click here.

Who are you going to share this information with to raise awareness of auditory processing challenges?

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