It is possible your child may be experiencing an auditory or language processing disorder. Processing disorders are prevalent and can be a significant factor, or the entire reason, that some children struggle with academic and/or communication issues. In fact, dyslexia is typically a combination of auditory and visual disorders.
An auditory processing disorder is a disruption in the auditory nervous system that interferes with the processing and understanding of sounds, speech and language. Or, in the words of Jack Katz, it is “what we do with what we hear” (Lasky & Katz, 1983). Language processing generally refers to understanding information we hear that has meaning such as words and sentences, rather than sounds or syllables that we hear but may not have meaning. There are a variety of skills beneath the umbrella term of processing disorders. One of these skill areas is auditory discrimination which is essentially the ability to hear sounds and sound changes in syllables and words. Those with good discrimination skills are able to hear the word "pop" and recognize there are three sounds in the word, and that the first and third sounds are the same. They know the middle sound is different if the word changes from "pop" to "pup." They are able to repeat the precise sound taken out and the precise sound that replaced it. This skill may also be referred to as phonemic awareness and directly correlates with listening, reading, spelling and communication skills.
Children with auditory discrimination issues do not always hear sounds in the correct order or as individual units. For example, if they are asked to spell the word "plan" they may write the word "pan," because they heard the "pl" as "p" and did not hear the "l". This can negatively impact spelling skills. It affects reading the same way and children with this issue may sometimes reverse or omit letters.
These types of problems occur with listening as well. As an example, "Go read a book" or "Go read a pook" are the same sentence with one sound change. In this example, one sound changed a meaningful sentence to one that is not meaningful. As a result, children may mishear words which affects their comprehension and understanding while learning. These children are sometimes misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD), because their attention skills decrease as listening and processing what they hear is difficult for them.
Another auditory skill is listening to different words or sentences presented to each ear simultaneously (dichotic listening). A real life example of this would be a student talking on the right side of the child while a teacher is talking on the left. Having different stimuli coming in at the same time is very confusing for some children, and they may have trouble grasping any of it. Functioning in a traditional classroom setting would be quite difficult for a child that exhibits a significant issue in this area.
Filtered speech relates to understanding muffled words or words that are missing some frequencies, such as sometimes occurs when communicating with a cell phone. People with strong auditory skills in this area would be able to hear part of a word and then fill in the blanks, enabling them to understand the word even though they didn’t hear it in its entirety. Those with poor auditory skills may be unable to do this. Situations such as teachers who don’t speak clearly, or face the whiteboard while speaking to the class, can impact learning for these children.
Auditory figure ground relates to the ability to listen and process effectively in the presence of background noise. Students with a weakness in this area have a great deal of trouble learning in a noisy environment. These children learn better in a quiet environment, and unfortunately, most circumstances in life are not quiet. Even homeschoolers may have to contend with siblings, pets, a dishwasher, a washing machine and/or a telephone, which can all be disruptive to learning.
Comprehension skills also fall under the auditory or language processing umbrella. The brain hears or reads words and then converts the words to pictures for long-term memory. If the brain does not discriminate what it hears correctly then it cannot effectively listen or picture, which can lead to comprehension, direction following, organization and/or memory issues. In addition to not discriminating well, some children do not adequately picture in their mind’s eye while listening and/or reading which further affects learning.
Students must visualize or "make a movie" in their head while listening and reading in order to comprehend and remember what they have heard and read. Students who feel reading is boring, or have to read information several times to understand and remember it, are often not visualizing adequately. These students typically do not perform well on tests, although some do well on shorter quizzes, as there is less information to retain. Students who have trouble writing sentences, stories or reports are often not visualizing well either. In order to effectively write, students must see what is to be written in their mind’s eye prior to putting pencil to paper. The same applies to organization. Students have difficulty being organized if they cannot see in their head the progression of steps or tasks that are expected of them. Students can learn to visualize through direct treatment.
Processing issues are generally not outgrown, and can be confusing to parents and teachers alike, as often students exhibit inconsistencies in school work. They may be labeled as lazy or unmotivated. It is important to understand that students with processing issues may work two to three times harder than the average child, and still sometimes or often receive poor grades that do not reflect their true effort. Some students will attend to tasks at school and do well in the morning. However, because they have to exert so much effort they may be unable to perform well in the afternoon, making it appear as if they are unmotivated. These students are often extremely tired at the end of a school day.
People that have processing issues may be high average to above average in regard to intelligence, but it can span the range of intelligence levels. Sometimes students perform well in school until somewhere between the first and seventh grade, and then at some point their efforts, motivation and self-esteem can plummet. It may appear as if academic issues are becoming progressively worse, but in actuality the school work is becoming more demanding with less hands-on and visual cues. Students with auditory deficits perform better when there are kinesthetic (hands-on) and visual cues present while learning. The performance of students with processing issues tends to dramatically drop when they find themselves with a teacher that lectures for an entire class period, as they must rely solely on the auditory channel for learning. They also tend to perform poorly in second language classes such as Spanish or French.
Many students with processing issues have received traditional tutoring which is not recommended prior to receiving direct therapy for the processing deficit. It can be seen as building a house before putting in the foundation. A case in point is a student named Darren. Darren was tutored since first grade because he was still behind each year, despite consistent tutoring. When he began receiving grades he always earned C’s, even with the extra one-on-one academic support and spending much time studying. He had never become an independent learner despite all the time and money his parents had spent to help him academically.
When Darren was in the sixth grade he came to our clinic. He completed therapy and within a few months post treatment he received straight A’s for the first time in his life. He went on to seventh grade and continued to receive straight A’s. Most importantly, however, he did this without tutoring and with very minimal parental help. He had finally become an independent learner. Of course, not all clients receive straight A’s post treatment, however, Darren had the intelligence and motivation to pursue academic excellence and he did.
Treatment at this clinic is available for ages 3 through adult, although academic treatment is not implemented until age 5 1/2. Unfortunately, many people suffer as they are undiagnosed. Some are put on medications for attention, anxiety and depression which does not address the root cause of the issue. Other suffer with poor grades, or experience years of tutoring or special education services, for a condition that is treatable. For those that live with an auditory or language processing disorder, the correct treatment can be life changing.
Call for more information: 503.722.2851