Children with auditory processing problems are weak in some basic skills for decoding and remembering what they hear. They often miss, or misunderstand, information that’s conveyed orally, in instruction or conversation.
Helping kids with weak auditory processing skills is a combination of building in supports in their environment, and intensive training to beef up skills they haven’t developed automatically, as most kids do.
Here are some of the changes parents and teachers can make in the environment to help kids with auditory processing difficulties listen and learn more effectively:
- Preferred seating. Arrange for the child to have seating that will make it as easy as possible for him to tune into what the teacher is saying. That usually means the front of the classroom, to minimize interference with the teacher’s voice, and get the most access to the teacher’s visual cues.
- Use visual cues. Encourage your child’s teacher to use visuals in instruction, and be sure your child is looking at you when you give directions or convey other important information.
- Emphasize key words. Teachers and parents can help kids with auditory processing weakness by using intonation and slower speech to emphasize what is important. “One of the things we advise teachers to do with these kids is to significantly slow their rate of speech and use emphasis on key words, to bring attention to important pieces of information by the way they’re talking,” explains Rachel Cortese, a speech-language pathologist at the Child Mind Institute.
- Give kids a heads up when something important is coming. Cortese suggests using catchphrases to give kids a signal that you’re about to say something they need to pay attention to. It could be something as simple as, say: Are you ready? or Here’s the thing.
- Help with sequencing. Use words that trigger or help a child to sequence events. “Using words like first, second, then, last help kids follow sequences, and teaching them to us these transition words in writing or telling a story helps them to organize their thoughts and their language,” explains Cortese.
- Assistive technology. For kids who need extra help following the teacher’s voice in a noisy classroom, there is technology that can help. The student wears headphones that reduce background noise, and the teachers wears a microphone wirelessly connected to his headset.
Kids who have auditory processing challenges may benefit from working with a speech-language pathologist or educational therapist to strengthen skills through practice and learn effective ways to compensate for their deficits and build on other strengths.
The most common kind of professional help for kids with these difficulties is speech-language therapy, in which kids get explicit training to improve their skills at distinguishing sounds, remembering sounds, and sequencing sounds.
“Our minds are designed to pick up automatically on these skill sets for taking in language,” explains Dr. Matthew Cruger, the director of the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute. “So for kids who don’t pick them up automatically, the goal is to provide instruction that’s more frequent, more systematic, and more rigorous.”
Dr. Cruger notes that while it’s widely accepted that these interventions help, there isn’t a good body of real world research to back that up. Complicating the research challenge, he notes, is the fact that when kids who get intervention show improvement, it’s difficult to know whether it’s the result of the therapy or the child’s auditory pathways maturing over time. But he adds that waiting to see if a child’s problems will go away over time can leave kids feeling frustrated and suffering from impairments. Those things can take a toll on their emotional and social development, as well as their learning.
Educational therapists help kids who are struggling with learning to develop strategies to manage frustration, build on their strengths, and compensate for their weaknesses. They look for ways to bolster a child’s specific weaknesses—for instance, using multi-sensory learning for a child with an auditory processing condition who is struggling with reading. And they work on bolstering the confidence of kids who are discouraged because learning seems harder for them than other kids.
Related: What Is an Educational Therapist?
There are several “brain training” programs designed to build skills in identifying sounds and remembering auditory information, including FastForWard and Earobics.