Auditory Processing Disorder in Children:

Signs, Symptoms, and Strategies

Discover signs of Auditory Processing Disorder in children (APD), from struggles with oral communication to auditory discrimination. Learn effective strategies and interventions to support learners with APD in the classroom and enhance their reading and comprehension skills.

As a remedial therapist, whenever I’m asked to assess a child who is struggling at school and with reading, I’m always interested to find out when and how they began associating words and sounds or phonemes. The reason being that often children with reading problems struggle to recognise and manipulate the underlying sound structures of words (phonological processing) and struggle to map oral sounds to written language.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the same areas of the brain involved in processing auditory language are involved in reading. You might think that when you read, you are decoding words with your eyes, which is a visual task, but reading is an auditory task.

Here are 10 common clues to watch for if you suspect a child has an auditory processing difficulty:

 – When you speak to your child from another room in the house they aren’t able to grasp fully what you are saying, in other words they have trouble localizing sounds.

–  Your child often says ‘huh’, or ‘pardon’ when you are speaking to them if there is other noise happening around them 

–  Your child takes longer to react during oral communication or conversation,

–  Does your child often ask for things to be repeated

–  Your child struggles to understand you if you speak too fast

 – Your child struggles to follow many or complex auditory directions

–  He/she finds it difficult to remember songs or nursery rhymes

–  He/she finds it difficult paying attention or avoiding distractions

–  They prefer to watch TV with the subtitles running below the picture

– There may be other reading, spelling, and/or learning problems

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a hearing problem that affects about 3%–5% of school-aged children which in a class of 30, is about 2 learners. Learners with this condition, also known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), can’t understand what they hear in the same way other kids do. This is because their ears and brain don’t fully coordinate. Something interferes with the way the brain recognizes and interprets sounds, especially speech.

Kids with APD often have trouble recognizing differences between sounds in spoken words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. This usually happens when there’s background noise, like in a typical classroom.

These 8 areas can affect students with APD:

–  Auditory discrimination: noticing small differences between words. For example, if you said, “There are (40) cats here,” someone with APD may hear “There are (14) cats here.”

–  Auditory figure-ground discrimination: being able to pick out specific words in a loud or noisy background eg. A noisy, busy classroom can be very frustrating for a child with auditory processing difficulties.

– Auditory memory: being able to recall what was said, like remembering a series of instructions or directions, phone numbers or song lyrics.

– Auditory sequencing: understanding and recalling the order of words or numbers.

– Auditory closure: this is when a child can’t “fill in the gaps” of speech when it is more challenging. This can happen in a quieter situation but is more common when the speaker’s voice is too fast or is muffled, making it hard for the child to make sense of the sounds and words.

– Dichotic listening: this is when a child has trouble understanding competing, meaningful speech that happens at the same time. For example, if a teacher is talking on one side of the child and another student is talking on the other side, the child with APD cannot understand the speech of one or both of the speakers.

– Temporal processing: this is the timing of a child’s processing system, which helps them recognize differences in speech sounds (such as mat versus pat). It also helps them understand pitch and intonation (for example, asking a question instead of giving a command), understand riddles and humor, and make inferences.

– Binaural interaction: this is the ability to know which side speech or sounds are coming from, and to localize sound in a room. Although less common, this problem happens in children with a history of brain trauma or seizure disorders.

Teachers have such an important role to play. You can imagine an a class of 30 or more students, how difficult it might be for a learner to be able to filter out other sounds such as papers rustling, a pencil falling on the floor, noises from outside like a leaf blower or lawn mower, other learners speaking AND be able to focus on the teacher’s voice that might be too soft, or the pitch is too low, or the person is speaking too fast and giving too many instructions or directions at the same time. This learner might only be hearing every 10th word in every sentence.

If you suspect that a learner is struggling with auditory tasks, suggest that they visit an audiologist to rule out a hearing problem or APD.

For foundation phase teachers, teach reading in a structured way, avoid using sight words without first teaching learners the phonemes. Here is a video to show how they should decode unfamiliar words

Auditory Processing Disorder in ChildrenThe Science of Reading needs to be carefully explained. It is a collection of research that has happened over time, from multiple fields of study using methods that confirm and disconfirm theories on how children best learn to read. It is teaching that is based on the 5 big ideas:

– Phonemic Awareness – The ability to identify and play with individual sounds in spoken words.

– Phonics – Reading instruction on understanding how letters and groups of letters link to sounds to form letter- sound relationships and spelling patterns.

– Fluency – The ability to read words, phrases, sentences, and stories correctly, with enough speed, and expression.

– Vocabulary – Knowing what words mean and how to say and use them correctly.

– Comprehension – The ability to understand what you are reading.

The Science of Reading is also ever-evolving and there is new research and evidence all the time. As populations, communities, and approaches evolve, so should practice.

The Science of Reading for teachers is further explained here

The vowel placement and pencil reading strategy which is the basis of the Learn Reading   programme is demonstrated here

So we agree that Auditory Processing Disorder in children (APD) is an auditory issue and not a cognitive, speech, or language disorder. Your learner may feel embarrassed to let you know they did not understand what you said or directions you gave. By making sure that Learners with APD write down assignments and help them stay organized. These strategies may ease their frustration and boost their self-esteem in the classroom. It can help to speak at a slightly slower rate with a clear voice. Remember, with APD, louder does not always help.

Finally, teachers can also assist learners in the classroom by:

– Using strategic (or preferential) seating so the child is closest to the teacher, which reduces sound and sight distractions and improves access to speech.

– Pre-teaching new or unfamiliar words – this isn’t always practical in the classroom.

– Using visual aids such as PowerPoint slides and charts.

– Recording lessons for later review can help greatly when learners are studying for tests and exams

For a young person to be able to read fluently, effortlessly and be able to comprehend what they are reading about, is the ultimate goal. There are many programmes that can assist a child develop these essential skills.

The Learn Reading programme is one such intervention and added to it, a tutor, teacher or therapist who can facilitate and provide the encouragement and support that the child needs. This is the winning combination for sure.

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