Auditory processing difficulties are often missed in kids especially when they’re mild to moderate. Find out how they could be affecting your child and what you can do to help them listen and follow directions better than ever before!
I still remember sitting in that chair watching Full House. Or maybe it was Charles in Charge? Either way, I was around 8-9 years old and was intently following the TV show playing in front of me when suddenly I was jolted. I was startled and turned to find my mom just a few inches from my face, with a nervous laugh.
It was one of the moments when you feel like you’ve missed a joke that everyone else in the room is in on.
Everyone was staring at me. My mom then asked me a question I’ve heard probably 1000 times since, “Didn’t you hear me talking to you?” It was obvious from everyone’s reactions that my answer should be yes, but I couldn’t recall her saying anything. I was engrossed in Stephanie and DJ’s latest sister fight.
I was old enough to hear the concern in my mom’s voice when she asked again, “You really didn’t hear me?”
What Was Really Wrong With Me….
Turns out my mom was worried there was something wrong with my hearing.
Then she thought something neurological was going on, because although she’d noticed this tenancy for me to “tune out” as she put it, she never saw either of my sisters do the same thing.
The doctors assured her that I was fine, and the truth is I was, but there was an explanation for seemingly sudden deafness: Auditory Processing Difficulties.
What Are Auditory Processing Difficulties
Auditory processing is how our brain interprets the sounds we hear, it doesn’t have anything to with our actual ability to hear. It lets us compute directions or repeat back a joke we just learned. It’s the “thinking” our brain does about what we’re hearing, and it’s quite complex.
While I won’t go into the neuroscience of auditory processing, what I do want you to know is that these minor or more severe difficulties can affect how kids learn and follow directions.
And, it’s easily missed.
Signs of Auditory Processing Difficulty
Auditory processing difficulties can vary from child to child because of how complex the process is, and for lots of kids like myself, it doesn’t necessarily impact learning. In my case, it’s kind of a quirk that my mom and husband joke about, because yes, if you try to talk to me while I’m watching TV, on my laptop, or have a book in my hand, well you might as well be an invisible, because my brain won’t be listening to you.
My auditory processing difficulties have the biggest affect on me when I’m listening to somebody quickly rattle off a phone number or how to spell their name. If they go too fast, which most people do, it’s hard for me to isolate each number in the string of numbers I just heard.
I’m able to learn through listening, but visuals help me grasp concepts much better.
Those are just a few examples of how you can see some auditory processing difficulties show up. But, let me put it all together in a list for you. As you read the list below, look for any signs that you might see in your child:
- Difficulty focusing on more than one sound at a time
- Difficulty interpreting any sound or noise when focusing on a different task
- Difficulty writing down numbers or word spellings from oral diction
- Seems not to listen when people are talking or “ignores you” often
- Inconsistently follows directions or misses certain steps
Who Do Auditory Processing Difficulties Affect?
Auditory processing difficulties can affect anyone, although I’ll tell you there’s a strong genetic component. My mom shows some difficulties, but in different ways, she doesn’t “tune-out” when watching/reading something else. But, my oldest son does!
It’s interesting to be the one talking and him not responding because he’s reading a book. More than once, my husband (jokingly) has said, “That’s exactly what it’s like. Now you know.”
So, lots of kids can have these difficulties.
But, auditory processing difficulties definitely wades into sensory processing territory. That means that kids that have known sensory needs or issues have a higher likelihood of facing these challenges. That would include kids with mild sensory needs as well as children that have a diagnosis of Autism or ADHD.
While my difficulties are quite mild, that’s not always the case. The difficulties could have a big impact on how your child communicates and learns.
Could Your Child Have an Auditory Processing Disorder?
According to KidsHealth.org, Auditory Processing Disorders affect about 5% of all kids and are hallmarked by a difficulty in learning to talk because they may not distinguish different sounds they’re hearing. Kids with this disorder struggle to follow directions and learn in environments where there is any noise at all.
Noisy places can also be upsetting.
Some also argue that ADHD is sometimes a misdiagnosis for Auditory Processing Disorder. To read more about the actual disorder click here.
Why It Matters If Your Kid Has Auditory Processing Difficulties
Of course, I don’t want any of that to scare you, chances are your child doesn’t have an auditory processing disorder. But, what I do notice, as an occupational therapist, is that lots of kids have a low to moderate level of difficulty with it and nobody knows that it’s a piece of the puzzle.
Kids can seem bad or have difficult learning and we bang out heads against the wall, not knowing what to do.
Stepping back and asking yourself, “Are they not listening to me right now because this is a power struggle, or are they not listening because I’ve given them too many steps to complete?” is a great place to start.
Once you see the auditory processing difficulty is present, you’ll begin to notice it in all sorts of ways that you never imagined.
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Ways to Help Kids That Have Auditory Processing Difficulties
The good news is that auditory processing can significantly improve! For kids with a disorder or significant difficulties that are affecting their learning, speech, or social skills, it’s important to get an evaluation with a speech therapist that has experience treating these challenges.
But, there are some tricks you can use at home to help support your child as well, especially if they have more of a mild case:
- If you’re child doesn’t seem to hear you, go to them instead of talking from across the room. Crouch down to their level and look them in the face. You might need to touch their arm or chin to get their attention first. Give them a second or two to acknowledge that you’re there before speaking to them.
- If your child is having a hard time focusing, eliminate other noises from the environment. Turn off the TV or music. And, if someone is cutting the grass outside, move to another room or close the windows. Or, you might need to wait until their done with the lawn mower before working on homework.
- Initially, focus on 1-step directions. Instead of saying, “Pick up your shoes, put them in the closet, and brush your teeth.” Try just the first step, “James, pick up your shoes that are next to the coffee table.” You may need to repeat this and use tip 1 above as well. Over time, as they improve, you can add another simple step.
- As parents, our minds are managing tons of tasks and it’s easy for us to give an unclear direction like, “Hey, um, can you find your, um, flip flops, I mean shoes.” When giving directions, always choose your words wisely keeping it as clear as possible.
- Give them a visual. If you need your child to follow multiple steps before going to bed, getting ready for dinner, or getting ready for school, then make a checklist with simple step by step instructions. This checklist can also be simple pictures with check boxes next to them below. See mine below or check out this visual schedule:
- Have a pair of noise cancelling headphones to use for when things get too noisy for your child. We use a pair like this, but other families have liked this soft headband style that can play one type of music they want to hear. Some kids also find it helpful to have a quiet spot or sensory tent to retreat to when there’s too much noise.
Now that you’ve learned about auditory processing difficulties, do you suspect that your child could be affected by them? If so, tell us in the comments below. Your responses will help somebody else!
And, if you’d like to learn more about sensory and how it might be affecting your child, then check out my free checklist of 22 Sensory Red Flags You Could Be Missing. I’ll send it right to your inbox, it’s great insight into the quirks and behaviors your child is having.
More on Sensory Processing
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.