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Auditory Processing Disorder

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If you are looking over your students’ IEPs and notations, you might see some of them have something called Auditory Processing Disorder. What on earth is that? Does that mean they can’t hear? Is it different than being deaf? What does that mean for how they’ll function in the classroom? It’s totally normal to have questions. All good special education teachers do. In this post, we’ll go over what auditory processing disorder is, common symptoms, and how to help students with this condition function in the classroom.

The other day I was at work, in person, finally. My student and I were so happy to be back together and working on reading and writing again. Then I did something ridiculous, and it was the pandemic’s fault. 

We were talking and he did not understand what I was saying, so I brought up one finger and point to my lips as I spoke slowly. 

I was wearing a mask. He couldn’t see my lips. We both had a good laugh about that.

You can’t see lips through that!

But why was I pointing to my lips, to begin with?

That is an old trick I have developed over the years to help him process my speech. For some reason, seeing me talking and forming the words helps him understand me better.

Needless to say, mask-wearing has demanded I get a little more creative and utilize other tools to help my students with auditory processing disorder follow along during sessions and classes. 

But what even is auditory processing disorder?

Don’t worry. In this post, we’ll go over what it is, common symptoms, and how to help your students better understand what is happening around them.

If you are a special education teacher working with children on the autism spectrum, make sure to join my email list. You get access to my free resource library, which includes an auditory processing problem versus expressive language checklist. This printable freebie can help you better understand your children’s language needs! 

Click here to join and download!

Auditory Processing Disorder is different than being deaf or having a hearing problem. A child with this condition possesses perfectly functional ears. 

Side note: If your students have a processing problem and autism, their ears are actually probably incredibly sensitive.

The difficulty with auditory processing disorder is that the ears and brain do not communicate properly. There is no singular clear cause. 

Students might know you are talking and be able to pick out one or two words, and still have no idea what you are saying.

It’s not that they aren’t listening. It’s that you might as well be speaking a foreign language. They cannot pick out individual works and synthesize them for meaning. 

It’s like their ears and brain have a bad cell connection. 

For more information on Auditory Processing Disorder click here!

It can be hard to spot signs and symptoms of APD because children with this condition might try to cover for it. 

Often my students with this condition will just agree with things, say yes, or repeat the last thing said. They’ve likely gotten yelled at or lectured about not listening throughout their lives by adults who don’t know better and have become experts at covering for themselves to avoid making people angry. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Difficulty following verbal directions
  • Struggling to follow conversations
  • Consistently zoning out during long periods of auditory input
  • Poor spelling or phonemic awareness
  • Frequently mishearing things
  • Increased distractions in a noisy environment
  • Improved understanding quieter setting

Additionally, I have seen children who have not been diagnosed till they are older have struggles with expressive language.

Though this is not an official symptom, just something I have observed, like with the other behavior components I mentioned earlier. 

It can be difficult to distinguish processing problems from expressive language problems. As they can present in a similar manner. 

For more information on telling the difference, check out this blog post!

The first and most important thing I recommend teachers of students with APD do is to modify the way they talk.

Often we have lesson plans and goals in mind for the day. There’s a lot to get through, especially when you only have so many sessions, hours, or classes in a week. 

However, children with Auditory Processing Disorder struggle to understand slow speech. Fast speech is impossible. So you have to slow down and make sure you are speaking clearly and enunciating. 

Additionally, you’re going to want to get rid of all nonessential words and sentences. I’m not good at this. I love being wordy (duh, I have a blog). But if it’s not needed, don’t say it. Unneseairy words only increase the processing burden. 

When you give instructions, lessons, or feedback to students with APD keep sentences simple and short. 

These are simple basic strategies that actually take a while to integrate and become natural. Give them a try and see how it goes.

For strategies more specific to your student and their unique processing needs, check with their team (particularly their Speech Provider), read diagnostic reports, and their IEP carefully.

  • Putting subtitles on all videos
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat things
  • Teach students the phrase “Activate your ears” to prompt more attention to be paid to speech
  • Point to your lips as you speak slowly (in non-mask-wearing times)
  • Write down all important points of lessons and directions on a hard copy for the student
  • Require students to say more than yes/no when verifying understanding 
  • Have students with APD repeat back important points and directions

Remember to not get frustrated with children with auditory processing disorder if they don’t seem to understand you.

It’s not that they aren’t listening or trying. Their disability makes it hard for them to understand verbal speech. 

Repeat things and don’t be afraid of writing things down as needed. Make sure you’re speaking clearly and slowly to allow students more time to process your words and increase their comprehension. 

Additionally, remember that children with Auditory Processing Disorder might present with similar issues to children with expressive language problems. Telling the difference can be tricky. Join my email list to get access to the free resource library and download my Expressive Langauge versus Processing problems checklist! 

Click here to join!

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