Auditory Processing Difficulties

Many children have auditory processing issues. These children typically have normal hearing but they struggle to process and make meaning of sounds, especially when there is background noise present. There are several kinds of auditory processing issues and symptoms can range from mild to severe. There may be weaknesses in one, some, or all of these areas:

  • Auditory discrimination: Being able to notice, compare and distinguish between sounds.
  • Auditory figure-ground discrimination: Being able to focus on the important sounds in a noisy setting.
  • Auditory memory: Being able to recall what you’ve heard.
  • Auditory sequencing: Being able to understand and remember the order of sounds.

These are some signs that your child might have auditory processing difficulties:

  • Finds it hard to follow spoken instructions
  • Frequently asks people to repeat what they’ve said
  • Is easily distracted by noises
  • Has trouble with reading and spelling
  • Struggles with spoken math problems
  • Finds it hard to learn songs or nursery rhymes
  • Has trouble remembering details of what was read or heard

A trained audiologist can assess for auditory processing difficulties around the age of 7 or 8. Many of the above skills are not developed before then.

Here are some games you can play with your child to improve auditory processing:

  1. Your child sits opposite you about 45cm away with his/her eyes closed. You will hold an item that when you touch/squish/activate it, it makes a sound (not too loud, not too soft). Hold the item somewhere in front of your child (to his/her left, to his/her right, above his/her head, below his/her head, etc.). Ask him/her to point to where the sound is coming from or take the object from you without feeling around first. Your child has to locate the item by listening to where the sound is coming from.
  2. Play Auditory Hide and Seek. In this game, you hide somewhere in the house/outside/at the centre. Every 10 seconds, you make a sound (like a bird call or a cough). Tell your child beforehand what sound you will make so that he/she knows what to listen out for. Your child has to find you by following the sound you make.
  3. Put something noisy like bells on your shoes. Your child has to close his/her eyes and listen while you hide (so that he/she can hear but not see which direction you went in).
  4. Teach your child how to play Marco Polo in the pool. The person who is “it” closes their eyes. The other person swims away. The person who is “it” calls “Marco” and the other person has to answer “Polo” no matter where they are. The person who is “it” follows the sound of the other person’s voice to catch them. Once someone is caught, that person becomes “it”. A player can exit the pool to avoid being caught but if the person who is “it” calls “fish out of water” while that person is out of the pool, he/she automatically becomes “it”. The more people that play, the more fun it is.
  5. Tap a short rhythm on a drum or with sticks on the floor and have your child copy it.
  6. Make a worksheet with four pictures on it. Say a sentence that describes one of the pictures. Your child must point to the picture you are describing. The more similar the pictures are, the more difficult this is.
  7. Have your child listen out for specific sounds while on a walk around the neighbourhood with you.

Bear in mind that the more background noise there is, the harder the activity will be.

Here are some helpful considerations in the classroom for a child with auditory processing difficulties:

  1. A physically small classroom will be better than a large classroom, as will a classroom with fewer students.
  2. Curtains, carpets, and wall hangings will help with echoes.
  3. A classroom away from noisy areas such as the music room or canteen is preferable.
  4. Sitting close to the teacher where the student can clearly hear and see the teacher will help.
  5. Seat the child between two quiet children who concentrate and stay on-task well.
  6. Seat the child away from sources of noise such as air conditioner/vent, pencil-sharpening station (usually the dustbin), windows and fans.
  7. Seat the child away from sources of visual distraction (visual distractions pull their attention away from their auditory channel which is already weakened).
  8. Ensure that you have the child’s attention by calling their name or catching their gaze before giving instructions.
  9. Do a ‘comprehension check’ after you have given an instruction to ensure that the child heard and understood it.
  10. Speak slowly, clearly, and audibly.
  11. Break down multi-step instructions. For example, instead of saying “cut out this worksheet and stick it in your English book” say “cut this out… get your English book… stick in your worksheet.”
  12. Have the child repeat the instruction to him-/herself or imagine him-/herself following the instruction as a strategy to remember it.