Is Your Child Struggling With Summer Reading? LearningRx Warren Offers Information To Help Parents Understand How Reading Problems May Be A Sign Of A Larger Auditory Processing Problem and How to Find Help
Monday, July 30, 2012 • 3:01pm
If you’re like me, in many ways, it feels like summer just began. And yet, we’re already starting to hear about backpack collections in the community, school supply displays are popping up in the retail stores and my kids’ football practices will begin in just about another week! Time certainly flies, and the new school year will be upon us in no time at all.
With any luck, your child has been reading all summer, and hopefully enjoying it too! Why? Because most young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities over the summer. Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Education, children are set back by 25 percent in reading skills each summer and the average student loses approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills. As a result of this “summer brain drain”, teachers often spend the first six-weeks of each new school year, re-teaching what had been taught the year before.
For some students, a simple review at the beginning of the school year will suffice to allow them to keep up with the demands of the classroom. For others, however, reading is a much bigger issue. If you are one of the many parents who has been frustrated with trying to get your child to read this summer, the reason may be more than lack of interest. Like many children (and adults), your child’s resistance to reading might be rooted in a hidden hearing loss we call Auditory Processing Disorder. This same hidden problem may also be at the root of other difficulties your child experiences at school, at home and in other areas of her life. Things like listening comprehension, attention and following instructions.
Auditory Processing Disorder – The Hidden Hearing Loss
Simply put, auditory processing refers to how your brain analyzes, interprets and makes sense of what you hear. Individuals with auditory processing disorder (APD) actually have normal hearing acuity, meaning that they can detect sounds at low levels, but making sense of what they hear is inefficient. Auditory processing doesn’t refer to how the ears hear, but rather how the brain hears.
Children’s’ struggles with APD are often particularly apparent in challenging listening environments, such as when they are in the presence of competing background noise, when they don’t have a good visual view of the person speaking, or when they are in a group situation. Because kids with APD have to work harder than their peers to make sense of what they hear, any additional hearing challenge (i.e., background noise, etc.) requires more mental energy than they have available.
Imagine yourself having to do something mentally challenging. For many adults, balancing the checkbook is a good example. This is something that requires one’s full concentration or there will likely be errors. To tackle the checkbook, many busy moms wait until the kids are off to school for the day, turn off the TV and radio and sit in complete silence. For many, only when all other distractions have been eliminated can one successfully complete this task. So it is with listening for children with APD. Children with APD often struggle with the following:
- Hearing accurately, particularly in challenging listening conditions.
- Interpreting tone of voice or the feeling and meaning of speech that is conveyed by stress and/or intonation.
- Integrating what is heard with information that is taken in via other senses (i.e., vision).
Although these are the most common challenges kids with APD have, these are rarely the reasons parents seek out an APD evaluation for their child. Parents deal with children in the home environment and are masters at both adapting and manipulating their surroundings and their own behaviors to help their children function optimally. If their child with APD has difficulty hearing when there are distractions, they do their best to turn off the TV or get their child’s attention before talking with them. If their child struggles to follow multiple-step directions because of their APD, they give directions one at a time.The home environment is flexible and parents are adept at recognizing and correcting barriers to communication, often without even recognizing they are doing so.
It is when these children leave home and the accommodations of their intuitive parents that the real struggles begin. While the home environment is flexible, the classroom is a whole new ball game. Consider the classroom setting for a moment. Even under the best of circumstances, children with APD are now sharing their space with more than a dozen other children who make a considerable amount of noise, even when they are trying to be quiet. Throw in a fish tank or a couple of hamsters, a seating chart (which may or may not allow them a clear view of the teacher’s face while she is talking) and a teacher who wanders the room (which is actually a great practice for everyone else in the class) while she is talking so the distance between the student and the teacher and the visual cues available vary, and we’ve got ourselves a really challenging listening situation.
While the listening environment can be managed, to a degree, by collaborating with the teacher and making the classroom more acoustically friendly, the academic demands on the auditory system are great. Reading is a perfect example!It is an exceedingly auditory skill, and children with auditory processing disorders are notoriously poor readers. Written language is comprised of letter symbols that represent the various sounds in our words. Beginning readers are required to recognize these symbols and attach them to the sounds they represent, then blend them together in order to read words. These same kids have generally have difficulty hearing the tiny, fine differences between speech sounds. Sounds in words happen in milliseconds and children with APD struggle to hear them accurately, hear them in the right order, and to blend and segment the sounds in words. This makes learning to read extremely difficult. It can sometimes seem like the way the reading code is set up just doesn’t make sense to them.
Understandably, parents are often bewildered by their children’s’ struggle with reading. Either on their own, or on the recommendation of others, they generally try to tackle the problem by providing more opportunities to practice reading…if they just read more, things will improve. Unfortunately, unless the underlying cause of their reading challenge (their auditory processing disorder) is addressed and altered, additional practice will rarely change the situation significantly. This is often when a family seeks a formal learning evaluation.
Identification Of An Auditory Processing Disorder
Identification of an APD is often validating for a family looking for answers. The real excitement, though, is in what comes next. Typically, the first plan of attack in a school setting is to provide accommodations in the classroom.Classroom accommodations can and should be made, but follow up should never stop there!Auditory processing is a skill that, like other skills, such as learning to play the piano or hitting a golf ball, can be trained through practice. Treatment of auditory processing is based on the principle of neuroplasticity - - the brain’s amazing ability to organize and reorganize itself in response to experience. With proper auditory training, auditory skills can be significantly improved. In doing so, the resulting behaviors and academic challenges that accompany this disorder, i.e. difficulty learning to read or paying attention in background noise, can also meaningfully improve.
What To Look For In An Auditory Training Program
Looking for the right treatment program for your child can be a challenge, but well worth the effort. When looking for a good auditory training program, be sure to consider the following seven required elements:
- First, the program should be targeted, meaning that it is individualized and focuses on the specific auditory weaknesses of the child as defined by his test results. It should also allow the clinician to analyze student progress and mistakes on the fly so that they can always be focusing on the areas of greatest need. One size does not fit all.
- Second, skills should be trained, not taught. Auditory processing as a skill, not an academic subject, is developed with repetitive practice. This repetitive practice is what strengthens the auditory system’s ability to recognize the sounds in words, recognize them accurately and in the right order.
- Third, training should be done one-on-one. It is only with one-on-one intervention that a child’s individual weaknesses can be targeted.
- Fourth, training requires immediate feedback. Children need to have correct responses reinforced and incorrect ones adjusted immediately if they are to internalize the correct sounds and patterns they are trying to recognize.
- Fifth, training should be intense and should resemble an auditory, mental workout. Intensity forces mental alertness to the task which helps create change faster for the child.
- Sixth, training should be properly sequenced. Once a child practices and recognizes sounds in isolation, he/she should practice them in two-sound combinations. Once that is mastered, he/she can practice in more challenging combinations.
- Finally, the training program should be comprehensive. Children with auditory processing disorders often have weaknesses in other cognitive skills, such as memory, processing speed, logic & reasoning or visual processing. Strengthening weaknesses in these areas will help support the acquisition of new auditory skills and improve overall academic success.
A diagnosis of auditory processing disorder is not a life sentence of classroom modifications and preferential seating. Although these are valuable for children with this diagnosis, with appropriate auditory training, children with APD can significantly improve both their auditory skills and the resulting negative academic impact.
For more information about testing and training your child’s auditory processing and other cognitive skills, call LearningRx Warren at 908-22-BRAIN (908-222-7246). You can also visit us anytime at 34 Mountain Blvd., Bldg. C in Warren or online at www.learningrx.com/warren.
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.