During all the years my son and I struggled to move toward literacy, I never once heard the term auditory processing, and even if I had, I wonder if I would have discounted it.
Because learning to read is a visual exercise, it’s hard to imagine how the ears and hearing might make a difference. However, of the students who come to Dr. Karen Holinga for remedial reading assistance, about twenty percent of them deal with delayed auditory processing.
So it’s not the majority of struggling students, but one in five of struggling readers is still quite a few children.
Auditory processing won’t be the culprit of every child’s reading struggles, but what should you look for when determining if your child suffers from an auditory processing delay?
Clues of an Auditory Processing Delay
Children who struggle with auditory processing exhibit a few specific symptoms. Look through these and see if they fit your child. Perhaps this will give you some insight into helping with your child’s reading struggles.
1) Poor Phonemic Awareness
A single sound is called a phoneme(FOE neem), and children who can’t hear the difference between sounds have “poor phonemic awareness.” This means they cannot easily separate or distinguish individual sounds and have an especially hard time distinguishing between short vowel sounds, such as bet and bit.
Children with poor phonemic awareness will probably not be able to determine which of these pairs of words rhyme:
- sock - sell
- rim - slim
- sink - drink
- tap - shirt
The titular poem in Chris Harris’s poetry book I’m Just No Good at Rhyming begins,
I’m just no good at rhyming.
It makes me feel so bad.
I’m just no good at rhyming.
And that’s why I’m so blue.
The speaker goes on, misrhyming words, though at the end of the poem, the last stanza ends lines with both the word true and the word sad, demonstrating that the author clearly could have rhymed, if he had wanted to. So clever!
When I read this stanza, I paused before the final word. I wanted to see if my son would say the rhyming word sad.
My son couldn’t hear the wrong rhymes, and couldn’t guess the right rhymes. He finally picked out a rhyme at age ten.
He had poor phonemic awareness.
2) Difficulty With Word Retrieval
My son would know what he wanted to say, but his brain couldn’t access the specific words. For example, he might say, “Hey, Mom, remember the book about the person who went on a trip?” Based on the context of whatever we had recently been talking about, I could usually guess, “Do you mean the book about Chris taking the logs down the Mississippi in Swift Rivers?”
Expressing incomplete information is possible in the same confines of the home. Yet if my son had tried to talk to someone without so many shared life experiences, this inability to remember specific nouns could become quite a problem.
However, even with our familiarity, communication can become strained. If “Hey, Mom, do you remember when we went to that place and rode on that thing?” could equally apply to the time when our family went to the amusement park and rode the tram. However, he could mean the time we went to the airport and rode on the moving sidewalk, or to the lake and rode on the paddleboard. I would be left wondering which idea is my son trying to communicate?
When children have difficulty with word retrieval, the specifics of language, those clarifying and essential words that differentiate experience, are missing.
3) Unclear or Delayed Speech
Delays in speech can happen for a myriad of reasons, but it can also be a sign of an auditory processing issue in younger children. If they aren’t processing the sounds they hear clearly, then it will hard to recreate them for communication.
4) Delayed Auditory Processing
Children with auditory processing issues can become easily overwhelmed because they can’t process language quickly. Some children may process information 80% more slowly.
Think about trying to do anything if your brain had slowed down 80%. How much less would you comprehend?
4) Poor Auditory Memory
Children with weak auditory processing don’t remember what they hear, so they miss a lot. If a parent says, “Go to your room, get your shoes, and meet me at the door,” the children will show up at the door, but without their shoes.
This isn’t because they’re deliberately disobeying. They simply cannot remember.
5) Difficulty Identifying the Number of Syllables
You may have heard the trick of clapping syllables, a clap for each syllable. So one clap for cat, two claps for tiger, three claps for beautiful, four claps for hyperactive. (Some families rest a hand on the chin, to see how many times the chin drops—one drop per syllable.)
My son would guess: “Does computer have one syllable? Does cake have two?” It was astonishing to see all the ways he would contort his speech to make the syllable claps or the jaw drops fit the word.
When you speak quickly, you really can say computer in the time it takes to clap once. You can say syllable and only drop your chin once.
If your child struggles with identifying syllables, this may also point to an issue with their auditory processing.
Another Clue to the Mystery of Reading
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the information and opinions about why your child struggles with reading; we become detectives trying to solve a complex riddle. Auditory processing is just one more possibility to consider when piecing together the puzzle of reading.
Once considered, we can either seek help to address processing with our child or discard this as an issue for our child.
Auditory processing was part of my son’s difficulties, but I didn’t have the proper information to create change.
This excerpt comes from Dr. Karen’s Cure for Reading and Writing Challenges. Get your copy today.