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How Does Auditory Processing Disorder Affect Learning?

The social and academic impact of APD can sometimes go unnoticed. Individuals with APD often have difficulty understanding and interpreting what they hear. They can listen attentively to speech that is clear and loud, yet still receive a muddled, confusing message. This can lead to a number of social and academic challenges.

Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder include:

  • Difficulty following directions
  • Difficulty following along in conversation
  • Frequently misinterpreting what’s said or asking for things to be repeated
  • Difficulty with reading and/or spelling
  • Difficulty tuning out background noise
  • Having slow or delayed responses when spoken to
  • Difficulty with expressive and/or receptive language (organizing and expressing thoughts, understanding figurative language, words with multiple meanings, and tone)
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Speech or language delays at young age
  • Difficulty with phonemic awareness

Social Impact of APD

Individuals with APD can hear.  They can pass a standard hearing test, stop and turn when you call out to them, and appear to focus intently when spoken to. But the message that reaches them is unclear. Responses like huh or what after seemingly simple statements and directions are common. The absence of a laugh, when presented with a pun or sarcasm, is sometimes misinterpreted negatively by others.

Because of this, individuals with Auditory Processing Disorder may participate less in conversation in order to avoid ridicule or frustration. Their behavior can also be mistaken for a lack of intelligence, defiance, or inadequate social skills. Sensitivity to noise can turn places others often look forward to, like crowded cafeterias, gyms, and auditoriums into dreaded sources of anxiety.

Following directions and knowing what to do during sports, group activities, or even a friendly board game can be uncomfortable and challenging. Consequently, students with Auditory Processing Disorder can find themselves isolated from peers.

Academic Impact of APD

Auditory Processing Disorder affects reading by inhibiting phonemic awareness, making it hard for students to identify the isolated sounds in language. Recognizing and creating rhymes can be challenging as a result. This can lead to reading and spelling difficulty.

When students are unable to discriminate between similar sounds, blending letters to decode or sound out words can be particularly challenging. This affects reading fluency and comprehension. The longer it takes to decode and read through text, the less likely a student is to recall or understand what was read afterwards. The learner becomes so focused on the process of reading that the story or passage content is lost. This can also prevent the student from recognizing when a word is used repeatedly, causing him or her to sound it out again each time, as if it were the first.

Mental Fatigue

Auditory Processing Disorder affects learning in several ways.

Following along in class can be difficult for students with Auditory Processing Disorder. Because the words can sound like listening through water, the message is muddled. Children often need additional time to try and decipher what the teacher has said.

This impacts learning in two ways.  First, with slower processing, the listener falls further and further behind. The end result may be a child who’s on step two when the teacher is on step five, or one who only understands part of the homework, test, or assignment directions. Second, this extra work to listen is exhausting. Children with APD understandably often just tune out.

As with social situations, students may respond by choosing to withdraw or tune out the speaker. This is a way of reducing frustration and avoiding drawing unwanted attention. This is especially true when previous attempts to have information repeated haven’t improved understanding. The constant extra effort needed to try and interpret information can cause mental fatigue. This makes school and other tasks exhausting for an already frustrated learner. For some individuals, the choice to no longer put in this effort may soon follow.

What To Do If You Suspect APD

If you suspect your child has an Auditory Processing Disorder, an audiologist can perform an evaluation that specifically looks for and diagnoses these challenges. In order to help students be successful, a number of things can be done at home or school. Individuals with auditory processing challenges should sit close to the teacher or speaker during class instruction. Using short steps, frequent repetition of concepts and instructions, and visual aids can also be helpful.

This could mean listing simplified assignment details on the board, in a notebook, or on a Post-It note on the child’s desk allowing him or her to revisit and check these reminders when unsure. Asking the child to repeat steps back to check for understanding can also be helpful when done in a way that doesn’t cause the individual to feel singled out or embarrassed.

Interventions for APD

There is hope. There are a number of recognized interventions including speech therapy and research driven programs, like cognitive exercises, that can substantially improve skills. Because Auditory Processing Disorder impacts so much more than a child’s ability to hear, identifying and addressing challenges early can make a world of difference.

In addition to improving a child’s ability to participate in conversation and communicate orally, it can lead to progress in phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and spelling. It may also enhance the student’s ability to follow along in class, respond to and recall information, and complete assignments in a timely manner. These changes can have a significant impact on a child’s self-esteem as well, potentially turning a frustrated, withdrawn learner into a confident and enthusiastic one.