Auditory Processing: What is it?

What you do with what you hear.

Technical Definition: Auditory Processing Disorder, sometimes called a central auditory processing disorder, has been defined as: “…A central auditory processing disorder is not really a hearing impairment of reception and reduced hearing sensivity. Instead, a central auditory processing problem causes difficulty in understanding the meaning of incoming sounds… Sounds get into the auditory system, but the brain is unable to interpret efficiently or at all, the meaning of sounds…in an extreme case, meaningful sounds can not be differentiated from nonmeaningful sounds.” (Flexer, 1994). Auditory processing difficulties impact language and information processing.

Successful Auditory Processing is a multi-faceted process by which we hear a signal (let’s say speech), perceive it accurately, understand what is said, and remember it or forget it after we have performed a requested task. This all occurs rapidly, as the conversation or lecture continues; we also have to sequence the information, synthesize what was said, and analyze it . In addition, decisions must be made as to which information we pay attention to, which information we remember and which information we act upon.

Auditory processing is a complex neurological process, that when it works efficiently, appears effortless.

Adults can miss parts of a message and fill them in using their life and language experience. However, a young student, is learning from what is presetned orally in the classroom and has lmited life experience to use to fill in teh blanks (Palmer, 2013).

Your student may have trouble:

  • learning his or her address
  • remembering the letters of the alphabet
  • following directions
  • remembering information for a test
  • learning multiplication tablesand/or just remembering ‘rote facts’

The student may not pay attention to or recognize social cues and thus have difficulty making and maintaining friendships. These students may have a problem perceiving sounds accurately and rapidly, assigning meaning to them, and remembering what was said quickly.

Adults can miss parts of a message and fill them in using their life and language experience. However, a young student, is learning from what they are presented orally in the classroom and has limited life experience to use to fill in the blanks (Palmer, 2013).

How does it affect my child?

Imagine what it is like listening while you are underwater, or being in a foreign country where you understand only parts of what you hear. You smile, nod, and try to catch on; some of the rapidly spoken words are familiar but others are totally baffling, you listen for awhile, then lose interest as it becomes increasingly difficult to follow what’s being said.

This is what life is like for children with auditory processing problems. If they are particularly intelligent or social, they devise numerous strategies to cope in a world of rapidly changing speech. As the child gets older, however, these coping mechanisms lose their effectiveness. In the younger years, children with auditory processing problems fare more easily as oral directions are short and accompanied by gestures. As spoken interactions become more complex and learning in the classroom depends upon good listening and comprehension skills, these children face more academic, social, and self-esteem challenges.

Brain researchers such as Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., have proved (via brain imaging) that it is critical that one perceives the signal (what is said) accurately, understands the rapidly produced speech of others, and encodes this information into memory for later use. If one has ear infections as a young child, much of what the child heard and encoded during that time may have sounded “fuzzy” or may have been inaccurate due to the fluid in the ear distorting the sound.For others, a number of causal factors may have occurred, some we understand and some we don’t. Today, Neuroscience is evolving and we continually get better at understanding how our brains work. So, let’s say that because of the “fuzzy” sound, a child may hear “Go pat your toys” instead of “Go pack your toys.” Well the child figures it out based upon the knowledge that the family is going to Grandma’s this weekend.

However, these subtle changes in sounds and our ability to perceive them accurately and rapidly can certainly affect one’s ability to listen, learn, and remember. It can take a few milli-seconds or a few seconds to interpret the message. This delay in processing the auditory information may result in ‘losing’ parts of the next incoming signal and possibly encoding only pieces of the whole message.

A Child with an Auditory Processing Disorder May be Perceived as:

not achieving his potential
slower to develop because of being a boy
just not listening

However, these children and adolescents probably are working much harder than their peers who find listening and remember effortless. Just making it through the day is difficult because of the multitude of auditory processing demands that a child or adolescent faces each day. Sometimes, these students are irritable and tired at the end of the day. They have worked extremely hard to get to that time of day and homework seems to be an insurmountable task, day after day.

Your child or adolescent may be having auditory processing problems which make success at school a long forgotten dream. We obtain much information by listening. By third grade, the student is expected to not rely on pictures as aids, but to begin reading for meaning…in other words to learn and understand new information. It may be science or social studies that’s becomes hard, as the amount of listening in class increases as well as the amount of information expected to be mastered.

Most likely, the student hates reading, as it requires much time and extraordinary effort ‘to get through’ this process we call learning. It may surprise you, but a large component of reading is based upon the ability to listen and remember. There is visual tracking, perception, and memory that come into play as well. However, auditory processing difficulties often are the cause of reading difficulties.

How Can We Help?

A comprehensive evaluation that is specifically planned and carried out according to the needs of your child must be obtained by a Speech-Language Pathologist specializing in auditory processing, memory, and reading (or pre-academic) difficulties.

The Speech-Language Pathologists at SPS can help determine if indeed an auditory processing problem exists. Based upon careful analysis of the results of the evaluation, Mindy Cohen and the team at Speech Pathology Services Atlata work with you to design the most efficient, effective plan of action.

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SPS Atlanta
10 Glenlake Parkway, Suite 130
Atlanta, GA 30328
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