During the long, unsuccessful years where I was trying to help my son make some headway in reading, one of the programs we did was to help his auditory processing — to help him hear the difference between sounds. (This is not the same thing as a 70-year-old who needs a hearing aid. There was nothing wrong with my son’s physical hearing; the issue was in how the brain processed sounds.)
To help my son, I bought a cool program that came with a mirror and a bunch of exercises. We went through the whole thing.
It was a return to my college linguistics class, as my son and I watched our mouths make sounds with the tongue between the teeth, or behind the teeth. We observed that some sounds vibrate the voice box and some sounds don’t. (Want to try? Say the sounds with a hand on your throat, and you’ll be able to feel the vibrations on some, but not all, sounds.)
We dove deep into fricatives and sibilants, plosives and palatals.
My Ah-Ha Moment
Although we had spent a few months on this fascinating study . . . it didn’t really help my son much. Or at all.
And later, when I mentioned to Dr. Karen Holinga that this was one of the programs I had used, she chuckled and said, “But you know, that’s not really how children learn to read, is it?”
It’s embarrassing to admit in retrospect (and I am blushing as I type), but it had never occurred to me that I hadn’t learned about voiced sounds (the ones that vibrate the vocal cords) until college linguistics. Certainly not in early elementary reading.
I learned to read just fine without a class in phonetics.
My son did struggle with hearing sounds, but he didn’t need a program to help.
Auditory Processing: The Reality
In Dr. Karen’s clinical practice, about one in five of the reading delayed students are dealing with an auditory processing delay.
My son included.
But here’s the deal: an auditory processing delay is a developmental issue. That means that it’s like losing teeth, another developmental milestone.
Children who lose their first teeth at age four are not “better” than those who lose their first teeth at age seven. If your five-year-old doesn’t have a loose tooth yet, you shouldn’t get angry. You shouldn’t buy a program to help teach teeth loosening.
It’s developmental, and it will happen when it happens.
With auditory processing, it’s the same way.
You can’t make it happen, so release yourself from that pressure. There is no appointment for you to make, no official diagnosis that will help.
There is no fix for the neurology.
However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no hope!
Most children work through their auditory processing issues and eventually catch up with their peers, on their body’s own schedule. My son came up with a rhyming word for the first time at age ten.
That also explains why all the previous programs we had tried were daily exercises in frustration. He couldn’t hear the syllables. So how could he learn to read with a program that emphasizes breaking a word into syllables?
Of course, Dr. Karen would say: that’s also not how children learn to read.
But that’s another story for another day.