8 Ways to Support your APD Child at School
So, your child has just been diagnosed with (central) auditory processing disorder diagnosis. We’ll call it APD for short. As the parent of an APD child, your journey will be a lot smoother if you actively partner with their teacher. Chances are you’re already planning to do that. Here are eight top tips to power up that relationship.
1. Know what you’re working with
It’s actually a good thing you’ve got a diagnosis – you’re pivoting off a position of information. Your child is among the 7% diagnosed with APD. However, there are another 13% who miss being diagnosed. The latter have significant barriers to learning and reading. Early diagnosis and intervention lead to better outcomes.
An APD diagnosis means your child’s brain has trouble making meaning from sounds and understanding the sequence of them. There’s a disconnect between how your child hears and processes sounds. You’ll know that when they don’t respond straight away or appropriately to what you say or ask them to do. Having a radio or TV blaring the background makes it worse.
Auditory processing is a key foundation on which your child will develop their expressive language, cognition and ability to read. Here’s a quick explainer video Gemm Learning has created to give you the lowdown on APD in under two minutes. And for an idea of what it’s like from your child’s perspective, see this video. It simulates what your child may be experiencing – if you’re short of time, fast forward to the 1 minute 8 second mark. And this quote from someone with APD might resonate with you: “It’s like my mind is a television set, but someone else is working the remote control. Sometimes, my life just gets all scribbly.”
However, all of the above is more a working definition of APD. An agreed definition nationally or internationally doesn’t really exist, but the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) holds sway to some extent. It says APD involves an impairment, deficit or deficiency in auditory perception and auditory language processing. Here is a list of symptoms of APD.
2. Don’t blame yourself
If the specialist hasn’t already told you, the APD diagnosis is not your fault. It’s got nothing to do with your child’s intellect, how much effort they put into their study or even their hearing. No doubt those factors have all been ruled out in the lead up to the diagnosis. Usually, children with APD won’t have speech delays and will pass a hearing test.
Oh, and don’t blame your child. They can’t control their symptoms and behaviours. They may have had an uninformed or unforgiving teacher chiding them to pay attention and putting them on the spot when they struggle with classwork.
The best thing you can do is to take a holistic approach to manage and treat your child’s diagnosis. You’ll have more success if you and your family’s knowledge of your child feed into the plan and you’re active in its implementation. Speech language therapy and educational therapy may also be involved.
3. Understand the parent’s and teacher’s roles
Let’s get the roles sorted.
The teacher is the expert in pedagogy. He or she tailors lessons to meet your child’s needs and that of their peers in the class. Standard practice is for the teacher to create an individualized education program or plan (IEP) for your child following an APD diagnosis. The focus would be to build language and boost your child’s phonological awareness.
The educator should consult with you to develop, refine, monitor and evaluate this. They’ll also check in with any other professionals involved, but don’t take a hands-off approach here. There are good reasons for you to take a keen interest in your child’s IEP and not treat it as a set-and-forget strategy going forward.
Meanwhile, you’re the expert on your child and over time you’ll probably feel like you’re building your understanding and expertise in APD. You’ll need to supplement what the teacher does at school, so life there for your child and at home support their needs. You’re aiming for a seamless transition where your child feels that their parents and teacher(s) have ‘got their back’.
4. Talk to the other teachers and staff
You might think that your child’s teacher is the one-stop shop, a kind of ‘case manager’ for your child’s APD issues at school. Well, they’ve got a lot to juggle in their classrooms and beyond. Don’t rely on them to spread the word and update other staff about your child. It might not happen or if it does, perhaps not as quickly as you’d like.
That’s why it’s worth having a think about all the teachers in your child’s school that she or he will interact with. Are there any pull-out sessions planned for your child with a learning support teacher? Who runs the sports/PE class? Does another teacher run the library session? Does your child’s class regularly join another class when educators team-teach? All those teachers involved should be on your list to meet ideally face-to-face and update them on your child’s diagnosis and see how your child is faring in their sessions.
5. Strategies for the classroom
Research shows many teachers don’t have a good awareness or knowledge about their students with APD. That may be because professional resources based on evidence usually target audiologists or speech-language pathologists.
Your child’s teacher should be across these options, indeed they may be listed on the audiologist’s diagnosis report or a speech pathologist or other specialist has prescribed them. It’s handy for you to know the range of approaches out there. Consider trying the relevant ones at home, too, and if they’re successful share that with your child’s teacher.
Here are some simple ways educators can tweak their practice to more effectively accommodate your child’s diagnosis. These ideas are also helpful for all children usually, too. The bottom line is working towards ensuring an equal opportunity for education for your child.
- Your child’s ideal spot to sit in the class would be away from noisy students, equipment, fans, even doors/windows. Would soft furnishings, acoustic ceiling tiles, non-fluorescent lights (that don’t hum), carpeting help dampen down the noise in the classroom?
- Try having them sit midway through the first or second row. That way there’s less distraction with the teacher’s voice and your child can match visually with verbal cues. Your child has a better chance of talking on board what’s being said if they can see the teacher’s mouth when they’re talking.
- Ask the teacher to speak slower in short simple sentences, emphasize key words, give one simple instruction at a time, repeat and rephrase, and support verbal instructions with images where possible.
- After uttering instructions, the teacher will need to be patient and allow your child time to process that information, before moving onto the next thing.
- Consider showing children how to do something, rather relying on talking about it where relevant.
- Explore learning activities that appeal to different senses – hands on, etc, but avoid multitasking such as asking children to write while the teacher speaks.
- Encourage the teacher to forewarn the class when something important will happen – cue their attention with ‘Get ready for something important’, ‘Here’s what you need to know’, ‘Now, listen up’, etc.
- Build sequencing into instructions. Adding words such as first, second, then and last helps make the process more explicit to your child.
- Find a buddy for the child, a peer to help guide and support them in class.
- It might help your child if the teacher wears a lapel microphone and your child wears noise-cancelling headphones to reduce distractions. Assistive technology can go a long way for students who are struggling to make sense of learning in a noisy classroom.
- Locate a quiet area in the classroom where your child has the teacher’s permission to do individual work, if needed.
- If possible, ask your teacher to assess when your child learns best during the school day to leverage that for better learning outcomes.
- Nudge the teacher to check in with your child to encourage them to self-monitor how they’re going, and give the teacher feedback. Your APD child may need more rest breaks than their peers.
6. Keep tweaking the strategies
You might be overwhelmed by the range of strategies, but don’t think they will all need to be harnessed simultaneously. It’s a process of trial and error to find out which fit bit for a particular time and not expect it will be ‘set and forget’. You won’t know how effective the strategies will be until you and your child’s teacher have tried them. As well, your child’s educational audiologist should be in the picture to monitor the strategies.
Helping your child’s APD will require a combination of managing functional deficits and going after the underlying cognitive skill gaps. There are a number of ways to address poor working memory, being easily distracted/inattentive, having a limited vocabulary, cognitive inflexibility (which could be mostly analytical or conceptual), poor skills in listening comprehension, reading, spelling, mal-adaptive behaviours or low motivation.
To give you an idea of the range – and you may well have seen one or more of these on the audiologist’s report – here’s the list of some APD types.
7. Keeping communication flowing
A handy way to keep track of what’s happening in your child’s world at school is to have a communications log. This could be online or a communication book that travels to school, home and back with your child. Ideally, their teacher would let you know what your child struggled with in class, so these are concepts you can revisit at home. The aim is to address your child’s need for more opportunities to engage with the content to help make learning stick.
8. Make neuroscience your ally
Neuroscience has made some fantastic forays into APD treatment and is being harnessed internationally. A key part of it is the concept of brain plasticity which shows that the human brains adapt and change throughout life.
Through a sound intervention program, your child with APD can make considerable progress. Gemm Learning’s brain science based online program has helped many children achieve a two-year reading gain in just four months. There’s a free APD guide to help you manage and treat your child’s progress.
You’re definitely not alone in your journey. Partnering with your child’s teacher will be one of the key relationships to boost educational outcomes following an APD diagnosis.