“I can’t tell if my son is just not paying attention to me, or if he really has an auditory processing problem.”
“My daughter seems to have a terrible memory. When reading, she needs to sound out the same word over and over again.”
“Is being a poor speller a sign of having an auditory processing problem?”
Our children and students can be a great puzzle to us, especially if they display symptoms of an auditory processing problem. But there seems to be much misinformation about what an auditory processing problem really is, and what a parent can do about it at home and what a teacher can do in school. Let’s explore this common learning glitch. First, we have found that there are two common misunderstandings about children with auditory processing problems.
- The first misunderstanding is that a child is an auditory learner because he loves to listen to stories.
- The second misunderstanding is that a child has an auditory processing problem because she can’t follow “three simple directions.”
Let’s look at those misunderstandings: When your child or student is eagerly listening to a story, he is really making a movie in his head of what you are reading. This is a right brain, visualizing process rather than an auditory process. These are the same children who love to listen to recorded stories also.
When a child can’t seem to follow a parent or teacher’s oral directions, we think more of a focusing issue, versus a true auditory processing problem. If the parent or teacher reports that the child “can’t follow oral directions”, but no other symptoms of auditory processing problems are found, it would be good to explore further a child’s focusing ability.
Characteristics of an Auditory Processing Problem
This is the most encompassing of the three academic gates that can be blocked. Dr. Mel Levine, in his book, One Mind at a Time, calls these blocked learning gate, “energy leaks.” He says that these children are using too much battery energy to process information auditorally. When a child is experiencing an auditory processing problem, it generally affects two distinct areas:
- Academics: reading, spelling, math, memory
- Everyday Life: easily confused, misunderstands information, scrambles words (“mazagine”), saying months is difficult, can look like ADD and focus/attention problems.
A child can have symptoms of an Auditory Processing Problem at several levels:
- Mild…A child has difficulty understanding a large amount of oral information given at one time, but has no trouble with reading.
- Moderate…A child has difficulty processing oral information and some difficulty with reading phonetically.
- Severe…(often presents as Dyslexia) A child has more difficulty with information presented auditorally and also has great difficulty with reading phonetically and remembering sight words.
Let’s look at each of the Academic areas that are most commonly affected:
1) Sight Word Memorization (word retrieval)
…Phonics “rules” don’t stick (too auditory)
…Sounds out same word over and over again while reading (can say” f-a-t”, not “fat”)
…Reads letters in words that aren’t there, such as “n”, “r”
…Parents have used at least 3 phonics programs unsuccessfully
Spelling has no phonetic pattern to it. Leaves out consonants or syllables…not just vowels.
Examples of spelling mistakes when an Auditory Processing Problem is present:
Saturday =Satday ; Thursday=Thusday
Examples of spelling mistakes when an Auditory Processing Problem is NOT present: Munday=Monday; Toosday=Tuesday. Phonetically, this is the way the words sound, so this is not necessarily an auditory processing issue. This is just a child who needs to be trained to use his/her Photographic Memory for storage of sight word spelling.
- Math facts hard to memorize, even with music and “wraps”
- Skip counting (sequencing) can be difficult
- Mental math is difficult (hearing his/her own silent voice)
What to Do
If you have a child or student who has some of the symptoms of an Auditory Processing Problem (a child doesn’t have to have all the characteristics to qualify), you can make learning easier for this child. The most important thing to remember, is that it is necessary to do TWO STEPS with these children: Bypass and Correct.
First, let’s look into teaching methods you can easily implement home and at school to help your child or student to bypass the child’s Auditory Processing Problem.
The Brain Model …The left-brain hemisphere is our Auditory-learning hemisphere, while the right brain is our Visual learning hemisphere. The auditory hemisphere learns using oral repetition, writing repetition, black and white flash cards, and rules to learn and retain material. If the child we are working with has an auditory processing glitch, we want to avoid using those auditory methods of teaching exclusively. The right, visual brain uses color, picture, story, humor and emotion to store information. Therefore for this child, instead of using only auditory methods to teach him it would be best to focus on the right brain hemisphere methods of learning and retaining material, whether the child is right brain dominant or not. Since most curricula available tend to use the more auditory method of learning, parents will need to make many of the materials (easy and inexpensive to do) to help their child become successful.
Teaching methods to help this child at home:
The visual method of teaching sight words is such an easy, effective method of teaching a child to finally memorize sight words. It involves imbedding the picture of the word onto the letters. Very struggling readers love this method because they can immediately remember the words. Just reading the words daily on black and white cards is a slow method for the child.
Since spelling rules tend to use too much space in a child’s auditory hemisphere, this is not an easy way for him to learn. Instead, you can easily train your child’s Photographic Memory using spelling cards that you make yourself at home. This easy, free spelling program, is demonstrated in my free, downloadable Right Brain Spelling Strategy at the bottom of this page.
You may also want to choose a conventional, but less “rule oriented” method of spelling such as AVKO Sequential Spelling.
Math is one of the most auditory subjects that we teach. The math facts and processes are often taught using rules and auditory repetition. For a child with an Auditory Processing Problem, this can be very discouraging. The child/teenager just needs to be taught how to use a more visual method to store facts and processes for long-term memory storage.
Specific curriculum and teaching strategies can be tailored for the child by using methods that bypass their blocked auditory learning gate. Specialized therapies, if needed, can be found in the community, or in home based programs that the parent and teachers can administer.
When working with a student who is experiencing an auditory processing problem, there are three areas of focus:
- Academics – Teaching strategies that help the child visualize material rather than being required to memorize information through oral or written repetition. We talked about these strategies in depth in last month’s newsletter.
- Therapies – Speech and other therapies.
- Biological issues – Addressing the biological issues that are commonly associated with auditory processing and speech problems.
Speech and language disorders are the leading developmental concern of younger children. It is reported that 15-25% of young children have some kind of communication disorder. These are children who, for unknown reasons, have difficulty developing speech and language. In fact, there has been a thirty- fold increase in the number of children with speech and language impairments since 1989, according to a 2001 US Department of Education report.
It can be disconcerting for parents when they have a bright, inquisitive child who can seemingly understand everything they say, but who has very limited verbal skills. The question that continues to plague the parent is, “Will he/she grow out of this, or should I do something about it?” To answer this question, one very helpful book is , The Late Talker; What To Do If Your Child Isn’t Talking Yet” by Marilyn Agin, MD. In this book Dr. Agin offers a detailed guide for parents to determine if their child is just a “late talker” or if some intervention or evaluation is warranted. Since more parents and teachers are looking for alternative startegies and methods to use in school and at home, this book is the many “at home” activities that promote development of speech. An additional resource is the book , Does My Child Have A Speech Problem? by Katherine Martin.
It’s important to remember that not every child who is a late talker needs to be evaluated, or needs interventions, since most late talkers develop normally with excellent speech/language skills when they are older.
Good home speech sessions can be found in Marcia Lapish’s book, Straight Talk. She also has videos with sessions for parents to do at home with their children.
Other Therapies for Auditory Processing Problems
- NACD or CAN DO programs www.nacd.org, www.ican-do.net (An intensive “outsourced” brain integration therapy program that involves creeping and crawling)
(A home or school based brain integration therapy program that uses standing and other easy to do midline therapies that help create more auditory connections in the brain, especially for expressive issues. Not intensive, 20 minutes a day)
Let’s explore some common biological conditions that are associated with auditory processing issues.
Role of Essential Fatty Acids
There have been some remarkable reports from parents who use essential fatty acid supplements with their child with auditory processing and speech issues. In fact, some neuro-developmentalists and physicians have reported “big speech jumps” in children’s expressive language with essential fatty acid supplements. This confirms what many parents have discovered on their own, that significant progress can be achieved just by doing something as simple as giving a flavored cod liver oil to their young child with speech delay or disorder. In fact, in a recent study of the role of essential fatty acids and speech acquisition, there have come some startling conclusions:
“A simple fish oil supplement may be the key to dramatically unlock the voices of children with speech and language disorders.”
That’s the conclusion of a group of scientists in the consortium held in New Jersey in July, 2001, “Verbal Apraxia/Dyspraxia and Essential Fatty Acid Supplements: A New Potential Therapeutic Intervention.” They reviewed a study of children suffering from various speech problems. The children in this study ranged in age from two years old to eight years old. They were given fish oil supplements containing a mixture of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Speech-language pathologists who monitored the children’s progress reported significant improvements within just a few weeks. The improvements they noted were not only in the children’s ability to talk, but also in their behavior, and their ability to focus. These children had speech issues ranging from mild speech delay and articulation issues, to apraxia of speech with accompanying hypotonia, sensory integration issues, and motor planning. All these issues improved with this supplement.