Why Don’t You Listen To Me? (Auditory Processing) by Dyslexia Dublin, © 2017
Listening relates so closely to most of what we achieve in school and in our daily lives.
Let’s take a look at Auditory Processing and the causation.
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Auditory processing disorder (APD) is common amongst children and also goes into adulthood. It affects around 5-6% of the world’s population, myself included, and is also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). We have real problems when it comes to picking up verbal instruction, we simply don’t hear quite the same as others who don’t have auditory processing issues. Why… and a very important why? Our brains and ears function in a slightly miscued way and at a far slower connection rate. This can have a huge effect on the way we speak, we quite often have to slow speech down to avoid mistakes.
This is so important… the connection between the individual and their instructor/teacher needs clarity and, if there is a cross infection with other noises, the signal becomes confused or even lost, and the reaction/response is often the wrong one. This is more prevalent today than ever before as modern class environments are more open with micro learning groups. Some teaching styles and resources can work very much against those with auditory processing, eg. teaching as a facilitator… using mainly student input which may well involve various voices and demonstrations/role play, lots going on within the classroom. It seems such a shame in many ways, but the old school layout and delivery was very much favourable to good linguistics… a single voice in a quiet classroom, with the exception of the teacher talking whilst writing on the board. However, at that time we didn’t understand specific learning needs, now we do... or should do! Very often the work is projected onto the whiteboard which allows the teacher to face the class, but the background noise minimises the pluses here.
Have you ever been in a café or restaurant and struggled to listen to your friends/family? Do you look up if someone drops something, or they turn on the ice/smoothie machine, or maybe driving in the car and the children are talking or playing loud music and you make a mistake or go the wrong way? Have you ever wondered why some children and adults don’t enjoy swimming? It’s not always the water that puts them off… swimming pools amplify sound to unbelievable levels. My own daughter used to hate going to motor racing circuits and bonfire nights use to be a real problem too. We often never realise how noise pollution affects some of us, although I will say the majority of us don’t even notice competing sounds and can just keep zoned into the person talking, or focus on what they are doing.
How do we assess for auditory processing problems?
This can be quite easy for both parents, teachers and indeed self-diagnosis in an adult.
Most who parent or work with children will notice how they can appear to switch off/zone out whilst doing certain activities, like at home watching television or deep into a game, they simply don’t hear you telling them dinner is ready or to turn the TV down. You are competing with other sounds and they don’t hear you… this is often the case with missed instruction in the classroom too.
If we go into a quiet room, like a library, for instance, we can listen to sounds without any problem… why? Because they are clear and unhindered. If you have ever been for a hearing test, you might have wondered why you walked through so many doors and into a sound-proof room? It’s because they have to ensure there are no competing sounds or noise pollution.
Some children and adults can have an over-sensitivity to noise, however, there will also be those that have an auditory problem. This needs clarification if it’s suspected that treatment can be given and any problems are addressed before they fall too far behind ie. speech delay or studies.
We can go through childhood into adulthood and this might not be picked up due to lack of awareness, or maybe it’s not severe enough to cause concern. However mild, moderate or severe, it should all be looked into to avoid any problems.
One of my children would have problems with competing sounds as mentioned earlier and maybe you can already see similarities… shout them for dinner and, if they are listening to music or watching TV, they won’t hear you. Trust me, this is not with intent, they just can’t hear you… stand in front of the TV and they will hear you fine.
So, do you notice any of the following…
Do they have volume control problems, ie. they raise their voice for no reason?
Do they dislike noisy places like swimming pools, cafes, etc?
Are noisy environments upsetting to your child?
Do they look around when there is a sudden increase in competing noises?
Have you noticed a variation with them in different settings?... like at home with maybe just you and them with no competing noises they can completely focus, whereas if there's two or three children doing homework together and you’re making dinner or whatever, they can’t focus.
If the environment is noisy, is their accuracy with tasks or commands affected?
Remember that this can be comorbid with other SPLD’S like dyslexia and dyscalculia, add, ADHD and can lead people to believe that they have other problems when it can just simply be auditory processing. Lack of understanding/clarity of what they’re hearing can cause students to appear hyper and disruptive and while I must say this is not one size fits all, it is well worth exploring… especially if you see a change in your child.
Maybe they have a problem academically that is caused by their inability to zone into the teacher? Maybe their class is noisy at times? You can often find noise levels increase in more non-kinesthetic subjects like English and Maths, as some children are less stimulated and distracted and this can raise noise levels to the point where your child cannot focus. We need really good listening and processing skills in the early phases of learning English, as there is such a small variation in sounds between certain letters and letter formations. We can also look at confusion with homework… what happens when the teacher wraps up or the children know the school day is coming to an end? Ever wondered why they forget books or misunderstood what was required for homework? This is often laid at the door of poor organisational skillsets… however, a simple fix is to set the homework earlier in the day, as when it is coming near to home time the class in general is winding down and getting reading to go home. Better still, give them one or two subjects per night for homework, less books to carry too!
Maybe your school is proactive and are prepared to offer FM (the student wears headphones linked to the teacher which allows them to hear only the teacher’s voice) or take steps to reduce competing noises. You can also work on this at home when tasks require a high level of accuracy. Help them to speak with good tone variation, try talking into the mirror with them, record their voice and play it back… this helps pitch. Try not to use high level vocabulary, make it fit their academic age range, we often talk to our children these days as if they are adults, this never happened years ago. Also, keep an eye on the type of programmes they are watching on the television.
We tend to slow our speech down when talking to non-English speakers and this is also a good idea for talking to people with APD, but not to the point where the person feels that we are mocking them, there has to be a good balance. School environment can account for some issues… teachers can make sure those who they feel may have APD can be seated nearer the front of the class and preferably away from the noisy elements. Let your child share ownership of this, especially if they are of an age where they can see the negative effect it has on their progress both in and out of school.
How do we find out if our child, or indeed an adult, has APD? You can monitor activities and mood swings during events… like the school disco, a visit to the circus or swimming for example. If we feel concerned, then we can see our GP and maybe get an auditory test by an audiologist. We must wait until sufficient maturation has taken place to give a fair and conclusive assessment, from age 7 years up… this would be from first class in Ireland, junior school in the UK, the equivalent would be third grade in America.
We are slower auditory processors than most others… we take far more time to devour information and we often need to be told a few times or read text (out loud) several times. We can even take things the wrong way and miss punch lines in jokes or be the butt of a joke without realising it. There are several ways information can be interpreted and we often only figure one angle, this can lead to people belittling us and bullying can also result.
NB. This information is from personal experience and research and also partly sourced through the work of others. It is purely for improving the understanding of dyslexia and to offer helpful advice. Dyslexia Dublin CETC © 2017
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