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Why Can’t She Just Listen? Auditory Processing Disorder Explained

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I was recently approached by a mother whose daughter had been diagnosed by an audiologist, two years before with auditory processing disorder (APD). Her daughter, let’s call her Basya, had been making progress in her academic environment. Her grades had been rising and her teachers had noticed a significant improvement in her listening skills.

The problem, her mother said, was that there was no improvement at home.  This is something I often encounter in my office. Fortunately, there are multiple things you can do at home to make life easier for you and for your child with APD.

First, let’s just quickly describe auditory processing disorder. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders explains:

Children with APD often do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even though the sounds themselves are loud and clear. For example, the request “Tell me how a chair and a couch are alike” may sound to a child with APD like “Tell me how a couch and a chair are alike.” It can even be understood by the child as “Tell me how a cow and a hair are alike.” These kinds of problems are more likely to occur when a person with APD is in a noisy environment or when he or she is listening to complex information.

Children with auditory processing difficulty typically have normal hearing and intelligence. However, they have also been observed to:

  • Have trouble paying attention to and remembering information presented orally.
  • Have problems carrying out multistep directions.
  • Have poor listening skills.
  • Need more time to process information.
  • Have low academic performance.
  • Have difficulty with reading, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, there are three primary ways to help children with auditory processing disorder. They involve:

  • Changing the learning or communication environment. Sometimes the learning environment is not conducive to children struggling with auditory processing disorder. In these situations an electronic device can assist children to hear the information without the noisy background or teachers can be taught to help deliver the information in a more beneficial manner.
  • Recruiting higher-order skills to help compensate for the disorder. A lot of auditory processing issues can be helped by strengthening memory and problem solving skills. These strategies can also help children take control of their listening strengths and weaknesses, and feel empowered by their successes.
  • Remediation of the auditory deficit itself. There are a wide variety of treatments available – either computer based or one-on-one with a therapist to help remediate the deficits associated with auditory processing disorder. Of course, this should be tailored to the specific needs of the child with APD.

If things are falling into place in school because of remediation, what can you do at home in order to make things easier in your own household?

Blame the disorder, not the person. When your daughter does not listen to you, try not to respond by declaring, “I am so frustrated when you don’t listen to me.” Instead, express your anger at the disorder itself by saying, “It’s difficult for me when your auditory processing disorder makes it so hard for you to hear what I am saying.” This way, you can be allies against APD, instead of battling each other.

Let the punishment fit the crime. Teri James Bellis of LDonline, a website devoted to learning disabilities, suggests trying to avoid the roller coaster of praising the person with APD for good listening one minute, then rejecting him for poor listening the next. If a child does something that is unacceptable, address that behavior accordingly. Do not take away a reward previously earned for good behavior.

Deemphasize auditory behavior. Don’t pay attention to every mistake your daughter makes. Instead, let some of them slide the same you would with your husband or other children.

Lots of reading. Reading aloud to your child and then checking for comprehension afterward through both written and oral means is a great way to help your child with auditory processing. Ask your child to summarize to see where she is missing information. Then, see if it is possible to condense information into short, simpler sentences.

Use visual aids. The use of notes, flash cards, pictures, or sign language can be very helpful, even in the home. If you feel that your daughter has trouble listening in the morning and understanding what you expect from her, create a visual chart of the morning routine. Make a picture of negel vassar, a toothbrush, clothing, and breakfast. This will help her understand the sequencing of what you expect and will not frustrate either of you with multiple verbal demands.

No multi-tasking. Children with auditory processing disorder often have trouble multi-tasking, especially because their memories are heavily taxed as a consequence of the auditory deficits.  For example, if you ask your child with APD to put her shoes in the corner on her way to the laundry basket, you are setting her up for failure. Instead, keep tasks simple and singular. With time, routine tasks can be combined.

While people don’t often discuss auditory processing disorder, it is an issue that comes up regularly in my office. Therefore, if the symptoms that you read above seem familiar, don’t hesitate to check them out. Early intervention is the best remedy!

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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One Response to “Why Can’t She Just Listen? Auditory Processing Disorder Explained”

  1. As a neuropsychologist I work with many children and adults who have been "diagnosed" with APD. In each of these instances there is an overarching diagnosis that explains the symptoms of APD. Most often ADHD or dyslexia account for the symptoms being reported and proper treatment of these disorders resolves the APD. I have even worked with adults who have suffered strokes or who have undergone brain tumor resection and chemotherapy who have been diagnosed with APD. Interestingly, all these people with APD also present with problems processing in other modalities. Does mean that they have visual or some other processing disorder?

    The problem with APD and other so called processing disorders is that all that the brain does is process. When the brain does not work properly it is therefore always a processing disorder. APD will always be diagnosed by either a speech pathologist or more likely, an audiologist. This gives rise to the hammer and nail argument : when the tools you use are limited to a very specific set of variables everything looks like a nail.

    When we go to our physician with a complaint we expect to come out with a diagnosis which not only is followed by the appropriate treatment, but inherently rules out other possible causes. APD lacks the sensitivity and specificity of a true diagnosis. It is therefore not surprising that the interventions discussed in this article are those typical of ADHD and learning disorders.
    Shahal Rozenblatt, Ph.D.
    Clinical Neuropsychologist

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