Learning is Sequential, Auditory Processing is the First Step
Learning is a sequential process that starts with listening. Listening requires auditory processing, the ability to understand and manipulate what is heard. If your child is delayed in developing auditory processing skills,, all learning skills that involve language are delayed. Language-based learning skills include:
- Listening (receptive language)
- Spoken (expressive) language
- Working memory, attentiveness and thinking
So-called rapid auditory processing skills which are the key to early language development may not fully mature until around 7 years of age, earlier for some, and later for others. At 7 years of age in North America, you are expected to be decoding, reading. This include mastery of phonics. And yet, for many children, phonics are still hard to decipher at 7 years of age.
Here’s why auditory processing is so critical to learning to learn.
Language Mastery Requires Sound Auditory Processing Skills
Language Mastery refers to the ability to effectively comprehend, speak, read, and write in a particular language. It encompasses vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and other elements of language.
Processing is a broad term that covers a whole swath of skills and functions that need to be mastered. However, inside auditory processing, here are the main categories of learning growth that stem from auditory processing;
- Phonemic awareness
- Attaching meaning to words
- Observing language syntax and conventions
- Thinking while listening or reading
- Developing related skills, e.g.., working memory, attentiveness
Phonemic Awareness – for Reading and Writing
One of the massive and amazing tasks of a young brain is to map the entire auditory language to a text format needed for reading. And even more than that, this mapping needs to be automatic, so that the child is able to read effortlessly keeping the brain free to focus on comprehension.
This mapping process cannot gain traction until a child can actually make out the sounds inside words – accurately and effortlessly. Only then does phonics make sense, and only then does reading start to become doable.
Phonemic awareness will not fully develop if your child has an auditory processing delay. A delay here means a delay in learning how to read and the risk of frustration and a dislike in the process. Arguably, the importance of auditory processing is most impactful here, at the start of the learning to read phase of life.
Attaching Meaning – Vocabulary
It’s an amazing feat by the brain to attach meaning to the many thousands of words it hears each day.
However, that process is significantly complicated for a brain when|sheep| and |jeep| sound the same. It impedes the vocabulary development. The better our auditory processing, the more efficiently we can learn new words.
Almost as amazing as building a vocabulary is the ability of the brain listen to how spoken language is structured – the order of words, the impact on meaning if the order changes, grammar, syntax, language conventions.
The ability of the brain to be analytical while listening or reading requires the actual mechanics of listening and reading to be automatic. Only then can the brain work at a higher level, observing the language conventions in what is being taken in and how that impacts meaning. If however, the brain is grinding hard just to make out words and attaching meaning, there is no capacity for observing and learning about language syntax and grammar.
Again the importance of language processing skills is front and center. Without efficient processing, listening and reading cannot be automatic. This is why so many children struggle with grammar well into their academic careers.
Thinking While Listening or Reading
There are many levels of comprehension required for reading competency:
- Literal – simply attaching meaning to words
- Inferential – make inferences beyond what is heard or read
- Evaluative – making judgements
- Analytical – seeing bias, understanding themes
- Appreciative – seeing humor, connecting to experiences
- Applied – use to solve a problem, etc.
- Metacognition – thinking about your own thinking
All of these require the brain to think while listening or reading. If the brain has to concentrate on listening (for instance in a noisy room) or while decoding words, the development in these higher level comprehension skills will be impacted.
That automaticity is only possible if auditory processing skills are functioning properly.
Related Skill Growth
Cognitive skills, such as working memory and attentiveness, are like physical skills. They need practice to improve.
For instance, working memory – the ability to hold things in memory while listening or reading and then use them as the language flow continues, helping to make sense of what is being heard or read. The development of working memory cannot really get started until your child’s brain can hear words clearly enough to recognize them and so make them worth retaining in working memory. If the words are muddy, the brain has nothing of value to retain and so working memory is not practiced.
Similarly with attentiveness. If a child is able to hear language clearly and effortlessly, the content should be engaging enough to warrant attentiveness for longer and longer periods. If the words are muddy, a child will not engage and will get distracted, the opposite of developing attentiveness.
Again, the importance of auditory processing comes into play. If the language being taken in makes little sense – then the brain will not take it into working memory and so that vital skill, often correlated with IQ, will not develop. Similarly, if that language intake requires the full effort and concentration, there is no bandwidth for the brain to develop other cognitive skills.
Start With Auditory Processing
If your child is a delayed learner or reading, the importance of auditory processing cannot be overestimated.
As your child progresses the processing ask escalates. Many children with auditory processing delays do not have speech delays early on, although they might have difficulty rhyming – as that requires higher level observation of language. And literal reading comprehension might also be possible. But in 4th or 5th grade, the requirement to think while reading is often a stumbling block for children and the catalyst for investigating the source of difficulty.