Auditory Processing Problems Can Impact All Aspects of Life
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is an umbrella term to describe a number of different auditory processing problems and difficulties synthesizing auditory information. It does not just describe a physical hearing problem, although many children with hearing problems tend to have delayed auditory processing skills because of the reduced amount of opportunity they have to listen and process. Most parents suspect auditory processing disorder in children if speech does not develop as expected — if children are not processing words clearly, they will be reluctant to speak words out loud. In most cases, speech therapy along with natural maturing will help bring speech up to speed with 12-18 months of work. Speech therapy alone, however, does not address the underlying auditory processing problems if they exist. It works on a symptom only, which is delayed speech. Many children with auditory processing problems do not have speech issues. Parents should be on the lookout for other auditory processing disorder symptoms — it’s a long list covering speaking, listening, learning and reading skills.
Many Children Have Some Degree of Auditory Processing Difficulty
Mastering language at natural language speed is one of the fastest and most challenging cognitive tasks the brain has to accomplish. Not surprisingly, many children struggle early on with reading. At 5 or 6 years of age they have not developed the processing skills needed to hear every sound in every word. This covers around 40% of 6 year old children. Arguably most have at least a mild form of auditory processing disorder that is impacting their ability to learn to read. Left untreated, auditory processing disorder can impact all aspects of a child’s life. While there are commonly recognized difficulties associated with APD — namely following directions, handling background noise — there are a number of consequences of auditory processing disorder for a child around two core themes:
- Sounds come too fast. The world is traveling at one speed — natural language speed, 40 sounds per second — but APD children process at a lower speed. This means children with auditory processing disorder spend their whole day a little off balance, trying desperately to catch up or keep up. Much is missed, it’s exhausting, and in the end, more often than not, unproductive – each day means more lost ground.
- Language is muddy. It’s like listening to sound through water, as first described by author Karen J Foli. This has major consequences for the APD child — listening is exhausting, always, and picking out sounds inside words as is required for reading is challenging indeed. This is sometimes called language processing disorder.
Here is a list of some of the other, often surprising, ways these two aspects of problems with auditory processing — the world coming too quickly and muddy language — impact a child’s day-to-day life.
#1. Auditory Processing Disorder & Making Friends
One of the less understood impacts of auditory processing disorder in children is how it undermines social interaction. APD makes it hard for children to keep up with conversations — by the time they hear and process what someone says on the playground, others will have responded and the conversation will have moved on. This leads to a tendency not to participate. It may be easier to hover around quietly or alternatively, due the frustrations of not keeping up, just preferring one’s own company. Making friends is just too hard. This can become a vicious cycle as the lack of social interaction leads to less than normal conversation and language stimulation, the main ways auditory processing skills gradually improve.
#2. Auditory Processing Disorder & Classroom Humiliation
While the difficulties APD children have with background sounds in typically noisy classrooms are well known, less understood are the humiliations and disappointments experienced daily. During the school day a child will get called on to participate in one way or another. Generally this participation is preceded by a question or request and then it requires immediate response. This is no easy feat for children with auditory processing problems. They need a few seconds to process the question or request (while the rest of the class looks on and waits) and then they need to decide on a response. If your APD child is giving you a hard time about going to school, this is a possible story that is playing out for him daily. A talk to a teacher may go a long way to improve the classroom experience for him.
#3. Auditory Processing Disorder & Math Frustration
Sequencing is a learned skill that is commonly delayed in children with auditory processing disorder. It takes practice and because APD children expend so much energy actually taking in information, they have very little capacity to manipulate it or analyze it — this includes recognizing patterns or sequences. Sequencing is a huge part of math logic. Not only is it helpful in learning math facts and basic math computations like long division, higher level math logic is almost all sequential — an inability to remember the order of steps is a major impediment to getting math.
#4. Auditory Processing Disorder & Learning To Read
Arguably the most insidious impact of auditory processing disorder in children is how it impacts phonemic awareness and learning to read. If auditory processing is adequate enough to hear words as whole sounds for accurate listening and speaking many parents think there is no issue. But reading requires processing language at a much higher level of accuracy. It is not good enough to hear “bat” as one sound. To recognize the word as text, he must be able to hear the three sounds — the |b| |a| |t| — that make up the word. Unless those sounds, called phonemes, are heard clearly, the word will not be recognized in print form. This means the APD child needs to come up with a whole new way of learning to read, generally by memorizing words as if they are a completely separate language and then translating back to word memory. This is an arduous and inefficient approach. It can work for a year or two, but eventually falls apart leading to problems with fluency and/or reading comprehension in 3rd or 4th grade.
5. Auditory Processing Disorder & Reading Comprehension
Some children with auditory processing disorder, albeit those with more mild delays, are able to make the gargantuan effort required to hear the sounds inside words and are able to learn to decode, only to run into problems with reading comprehension later. Reading with comprehension requires automatic decoding. If decoding takes any concentration, there is less available mind space for taking in the meaning of the text. Children with auditory processing problems — remember, it’s like listening to sound through water — are almost never able to achieve decoding automaticity due to the muddied way they hear words and so reading comprehension is almost always at risk.
#6. Auditory Processing Disorder & Homework Stress
Everything that goes wrong in the day of a child with auditory processing disorder comes together at homework time. Homework requires:
- Following the lesson in class
- Catching and understanding the homework assignment
- Energy at the end of an exhausting day
This fearsome combo is why homework stress is business as usual for parents of children with auditory processing disorder.
#7. Auditory Processing Disorder & Spelling
About 85% of all words are phonetically regular, words like bat or shop. Once you know your alphabet and you can hear the sounds inside the words, spelling these words is a snap. For most kids then, spelling is about the remaining 15% of words for which there are spelling rules, exceptions and the irregular words, the so-called “red words” that need to be memorized. Learn those rules, etc. and you are pretty much a speller. This is not what lies ahead for young spellers with auditory processing problems. They don’t have the advantage of being able to hear the phonetic breakdown of words that makes it easy to spell the 85% of words that are regular. For them, every word is a red word.
#8. Auditory Processing Disorder & ADD
One of the most important cognitive skills required for academic success is learning how to stay engaged, called executive attention. Paying attention is easier if listening is comfortable and if the speaker is interesting. This is hardly ever the case for children with auditory processing disorder. They find listening exhausting and often don’t process enough of a conversation or lecture to be able to make sense of the material or to find it interesting. Without the experience of settling in and listening, children with APD don’t get to practice attention skills. Most children diagnosed with inattentive ADD in fact have an underlying auditory processing disorder.
#9. Auditory Processing Disorder & Writing Woes
Most children learn to write through observation. They learn the syntax and rules of language, how stories are laid out, and how arguments are made by analyzing and observing while listening and reading. This is not the case for children with auditory processing problems. They have a limited capacity to observe the language they are processing while listening, even less so while reading. They do not notice the language syntax and grammar rules in the words they hear or read — they are too busy just processing the words. Consequently, children with APD often struggle mightily with both the fundamentals and composition when it comes to writing. The grammar rules, the way sentences are structured, the way arguments are made and built are all quite foreign to them.
It’s A Matter of Degree of Severity With Auditory Processing Disorder
For most children, auditory processing skills will improve with age through listening and natural conversational interaction. For some though, the challenge is more severe. If your child is struggling with phonemic awareness, but does not appear to have difficulty with background noise — the classic symptom of auditory processing disorder in children — the presence of one or more of these listed consequences of auditory processing disorder may give you a clue that your child may need more help. He may not necessarily grow out of his auditory processing delays by the age of 7 as most do, meaning you may want to seek outside help to accelerate the development process. It’s good to let nature take its course, but it’s also true that if gains can be made, if auditory processing can be improved through exercise, the sooner you start on that track the better.