Does your child have poor listening skills? Too often, poor listening skills are wrongly attributed to laziness, selective hearing or defiance. In fact, some kids have trouble processing what they hear—known as an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). APD is not a behavioural disorder, hearing loss, attention or IQ deficit—rather, the part of a student’s brain that’s responsible for making sense of auditory information hasn’t properly developed. When left untreated, kids with poor listening skills grow into adults with the lifelong legacy of listening and learning difficulties. In the classroom, up to 90% of instruction is aural—and those students who can quickly process verbal information are at a significant advantage.
Symptoms of APD
Does your student:
- Misunderstand or have trouble following instructions?
- Ask for information to be repeated?
- Give slow or delayed responses?
- Say “What?” or “Huh?” frequently?
- Seem reluctant to engage in conversation?
All children will do the above occasionally, but if these symptoms appear repeatedly and persistently, they may suffer from Auditory Processing Disorder.
How to help these students
Traditionally, “treatment” recommendations for students with APD have focussed on compensating for the student’s processing difficulties. However, most health professionals now agree that a three-pronged approach to intervention is most effective, involving a combination of individualised compensatory strategies, learning environment modifications and skill building strategies, some of which are outlined below.
1. Compensatory strategies
The following strategies are designed to accommodate for auditory processing weaknesses.
Nonverbal cues—Students with APD will often rely on body language, gestures and mouth movements to gain understanding.
- Make sure you have the student’s attention before speaking. Make sure that he/she is looking at you, and give a verbal cue (e.g. “Johnny, I want to ask you a question”).
- Face the student when talking to him/her so they can see your mouth.
- Use non-verbal cues such as gestures and facial expressions.
What you say—The length, complexity and pace of your speech will affect how easily the information is processed.
- Make sure instructions are in short, simple sentences; emphasise key words.
- Slow down the rate at which you speak to the student.
- Give directions in a logical, time-ordered sequence. Use words that make the sequence clear (e.g. first do this, next do that, finally do this)
- Don’t ask the student to listen and write at the same time. Divided attention is very difficult for an APD sufferer.
Check for understanding
- Check if the student has understood by asking them to repeat your message or summarise the main ideas.
- If the student did not understand an instruction, try rephrasing.
- Encourage the student to ask if they haven’t understood.
Visual aids—Visual cues are very important for a student who has difficulty processing auditory information.
- Use visual aids as much as possible, especially when introducing new concepts; write instructions on the board to reinforce aural directions.
- Use printed instructions that are easy to read (in a clear, non-script, non-cursive font*) and understand (use short, simple language).
- Allow the student to write down key words.
- Check room lighting—don’t stand in front of an open window or stand in front of a light where your face will be in a shadow.
- Allow the student to look around and see what other students are doing.
2. Learning environment modifications
The following modifications are designed to improve the quality of sound reaching the student to aid their processing of auditory information and instructions:
- Reduce the amount of background noise and echo present when talking to the student.
- Decrease the distance between yourself and the student when speaking.
- Speak at a comfortable volume—not too softly, but don’t shout either!
Note: the above compensatory and environmental strategies do not train the student’s auditory processing skills.
3. Skill building
Skill building strategies are designed to train the student’s ability to process auditory instructions more easily and efficiently. Training auditory processing speed and capacity isn’t an easy task—it requires daily practice, individualised instruction and engaging content to create significant and lasting improvements. Sonic Learning’s team of health and education professionals has been successfully using the Fast ForWord program for over 12 years to improve auditory processing speed, listening comprehension, sound discrimination skills, auditory memory, auditory attention and sequencing skills.