Early Childhood Development: Auditory Processing
Auditory processing is the ability to recognize, interpret, and analyze spoken language. Strong auditory processing skills are critical components of two different activities in the classroom: following a teacher’s instructions and successfully interacting with peers.
Importance of Auditory Processing Skills for Following Directions
Children with strong auditory processing skills are able to respond immediately and appropriately to a teacher’s direction or request.
Children with weak auditory processing skills often rely on visual cues from others to help them guess about what to do or how to behave. (These visual clues may be peering at a friend’s worksheet to see how another child is completing the work or watching other children go to their cubbies and begin putting on their jackets, for example.) As they search for visual clues, they may seem confused or distracted and often have delayed responses to verbal instructions.
After a few weeks in school, it is common for classmates to recognize a friend’s deficit and begin to repeat the teacher’s direction for the struggling child or help guide him in the right direction. This may temporary hide a child’s weak auditory processing skills, but the child’s confidence in the classroom will diminish when he consistently feels lost and confused.
Importance of Auditory Processing Skills for Smooth Social Interactions
A child with strong auditory processing skills can immediately and accurately process a classmate’s words and respond appropriately.
A child with weak auditory processing skills frequently misunderstands a classmate’s verbal cues and often responds inappropriately. When this happens, both children are likely confused and unable to engage in a meaningful social interaction. Over time, a child with weak auditory processing skills will feel isolated from his peers as he repeatedly misunderstands other children’s questions, comments, and invitations.
Difference between Strong Auditory Processing Skills and Lucky Guessing
It is common for young children with slightly undeveloped auditory processing skills to hear only one or two key words in a sentence and infer meaning from those words. As an example, you may say the sentence, “It’s time to go to bed so let’s go to your room and get ready.” A young child may only be able to discern the word “bed” in that sentence – and he may walk to his bedroom.
While the child in this example was successful in completing the desired task of going to his bedroom, he will not always get so lucky with his guesses. This is especially true as your (and his teacher’s) directions become more complicated. For example, what if you had said, “Since you already made your bed, let’s get ready to leave.” Unless your child is able to hear and accurately process all of the spoken words in a sentence, lucky guessing will rarely fully mask an auditory processing deficit.
Difference between Weak Auditory Processing Skills and Bad Habits
Not all children who do not follow directions have undeveloped auditory processing skills. In many cases, what appears to be weak auditory processing skills is simply a child’s bad habit of ignoring a teacher’s or parent’s directions.
When this habit emerges, an unfortunate cycle can result. First, for whatever reason, a child stops consistently listening to his parents. To compensate, parents begin repeating their requests over and over until the child eventually listens. Finally, the child learns that he will have many opportunities to hear the request and begins to intentionally tune out his parents’ comments.
Tips for Accelerating Your Child’s Auditory Processing Skill Development
To help accelerate your child’s auditory processing skill development (or if your child is already in the habit of not listening the first time he is asked to do something), consider the following:
- Begin with a simple, one-step direction. For example, “Brian, lights off, please.” By using as few words as possible, your child will be more likely to focus on each word spoken rather than ignore the entire sentence or only focus on a single word within the sentence. Make sure your child has an unobstructed view of your face and is not distracted by the television, others around him, or an activity.
- State a reasonable one-sentence consequence that will take place if your child ignores you.
- Follow through with the consequence if your child ignores you.
If you have tried this basic 3-step process a number of times over a period of a few days and your child is still having difficulty following your directions, try these additional tips:
- Ask your child to repeat the direction after you say it. When your child learns that he will be asked to repeat the direction, he will need to pay attention as you are speaking so he can accurately repeat your words. Also, if he incorrectly repeats your direction, you will have an opportunity to clarify your direction before he attempts to complete the direction.
- If your child is unable to complete the task even after repeating the direction aloud, give your child a hint rather than repeating the direction. For example, if you ask him to make his bed and (after repeating the direction correctly) comes out of his bedroom a minute later saying he forgot the direction, try jogging his memory with a question like, “Were you going to do something with your sheets and pillow?”
- If your child is still unable to complete the task even after receiving several hints, follow through on the reasonable consequence you outlined at the beginning of the activity. Do not allow your child to repeatedly turn your directions into lengthy games of “Just give me one more hint.” By following through with the consequence outlined at the beginning, your child will eventually learn that he needs to listen to your directions.
If your child’s listening skills do not improve over the course of several weeks, or if any other concerns persist, please check with a medical professional to be assured that your child’s hearing is normal.
Learn More About What Will Be Expected of Your Child in School
Auditory processing skills are utilized in the classroom on a daily basis, constantly being tested and honed. When children begin preschool, they are expected to follow two-step commands (such as, “put on your jacket and line up by the door”) and understand verbal directions from their teachers and peers. By kindergarten, children are expected to have honed their auditory processing skills to the point where they can follow multi-step directions and mediate disagreements with their classmates without a teacher’s assistance.
Beginning of Preschool
When children start preschool classroom, they are expected to understand and be able to follow two-step commands. For example, when a teacher directs children to put the puzzles away and join her on the story rug, it is expected that the students will follow the directions without needing reminders or additional requests. Even early in the year, teachers will not repeat directions. Children will be introduced to other adults in the school community, including librarians, music, art or P.E. teachers. Children are expected to interpret information and instructions from these less-familiar adults as well as from their classroom teachers.
A child will be expected to accurately interpret his teacher’s words as she explains new concepts and gives directions for expected behavior. For example, a child will be expected to understand and comply with a teacher’s request to “Be polite,” even though it does not require a specific physical action. A child should also understand and incorporate classroom routines such as going to the “welcome circle” or getting ready for “recess time” within a few weeks of starting school. This mean that when a teacher says “It’s recess time,” a child should know to go to his cubby, put on his jacket, and line up at the door, for example, without the teacher repeating those three steps each day.
Early in the preschool year, children are expected to interact comfortably and independently with peers in play and work situations. This includes listening to and understanding comments or directions from other students, and responding appropriately. It is expected that children may need some adult supervision and assistance to help initiate peaceful and productive group work. Teachers expect to occasionally help mediate disagreements between children.
Beginning of Kindergarten
At the beginning of kindergarten, children are expected to consistently and accurately understand verbal directions. This includes following multi-step directions with ease, whether from familiar or unfamiliar people. For example, a child may be asked to color a worksheet, place it in a specific tray when it is completed, then line up to go outside. A teacher will give all three directions at the same time and expect a child to remember and execute all three steps without being reminded of what comes next at each stage of the activity. Children are also expected to respond appropriately to verbal questions such as, “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” Although this is a basic question, it is not uncommon for a child with poor auditory processing skills to respond with the answer, “In a cup” or “I eat ice cream all the time.” A child with weak auditory processing skills likely heard the words “ice cream” and maybe the word “favorite” but was unable to process the sentence correctly.
Kindergarten children will be taught reading skills, number concepts, and science and social studies concepts through verbal explanation and visual demonstration. Children are expected to understand and process the information presented in these lessons.
Children are expected to interact comfortably and independently with peers in play and work situations with little or no adult assistance. This requires listening to a peer’s directions and responding appropriately. An adult may be needed to begin the group work by suggesting a game or preparing the materials required for an activity. However, once the activity has begun, children should be able to complete the activity without a teacher’s assistance by listening to the other children’s comments and responding appropriately.