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Auditory Processing Disorder in the Classroom (K-12)

Auditory processing disorder in the classroom can affect more than just a student – it can affect the classroom.

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It’s normal for students to struggle in school at one time or another. However, auditory processing disorder will create a set of unique struggles that need to be understood and accommodated to ensure the success of the student. Finding ways to provide an equal opportunity education will take time, sensitivity, and creativity from the parents and teachers alike. In this article, signs and symptoms of APD will be discussed as well as potential accommodation solutions and outside of the classroom help.

While teachers and parents try new techniques to find what works for their student, it is important to take into account that this can be a frustrating period of trial and error for the child. It is important to provide a positive outlook, opportunities for success, and teach the student to learn to cope with failure as it is a natural and inevitable part of life, and can be a source of success when viewed properly.

What is auditory processing disorder

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is also commonly known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD). This processing disorder interferes with the typical neurobiological and physiological activity involving the central nervous system that causes students to experience difficulties interpreting auditory stimuli. Children and adults suffering from this disorder will experience a myriad of problems in a classroom setting for a variety of reasons that will be discussed in this article.

CAPD is a problem that affects approximately 5% of all school-aged children. While it can be accommodated with therapies and learning techniques, CAPD is a disorder that will remain with the child throughout their lives, making it even more essential that each child learns to navigate these roadblocks at a young age.

Signs and symptoms of CAPD:

  • Difficulty determining the location of sound
  • Difficulty comprehending spoken words when in an area with competing sound (like background noise in a noisy store), in a reverberate environment (like an empty room that echoes), or when presented too quickly.
  • Someone with CAPD may respond slowly in oral communication, taking longer to choose their words.
  • Frequently requesting the speaker repeat their words
  • Responding inappropriately due to frequent misunderstandings
  • Difficulty learning common songs or nursery rhymes
  • Difficulty following auditory directions
  • Misunderstanding tone in others that would aide in detecting sarcasm or jokes
  • Poor musical or singing skill, tone deafness
  • Poor performance in auditory or spoken tests, like spelling bees or recitation
  • Associated reading, writing and speaking problems

CAPD will affect each person in a unique way. When considering accommodating children with this disorder in the classroom it is important to take into account that there is no blanket solution for all children with these particular struggles.

An educator will need to take time to get to know the student, paying close attention to their areas of struggle as it pertains to attention, background noise, comprehension, socialization etc. During this time it’s essential that parents and teachers work together to ensure a complete overview is considered. After an initial assessment has been done, an educator may choose one or more accommodations to provide to their student to help them receive an equal opportunity to learn.

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Accommodations for students with CAPD:

Visual cues

Small gestures can have a big impact on a child’s ability to comprehend spoken word. For example, when learning new vocabulary, offering images that correspond and gesturing to them when speaking can help the child associate the sound of the word with the subject. When giving verbal instructions, providing a visual list to follow can help the child follow the assignment independently.

An educator could offer the child the opportunity to leave their seat and check off assignments as they are completed to help give the child a small break out of their seat, a visual reminder so they stay on task, and a feeling of accomplishment as they make small achievements.

Get their attention

In a classroom full of visual and auditory stimuli, it will be difficult for the student with CAPD to discriminate between their peer talking, and the instructor. In order for this student to have equal opportunity to gather pertinent information, create a visual reminder that what you are about to say is important, and requires full attention.

For example, a flag system, a hand gesture, or a talking stick. After a few uses, the child will learn when they see their visual aid to “turn their ears on.”

Emphasize key words

Because those with CAPD have a difficult time organizing spoken word in their minds, the way an educator speaks can be essential in helping them to process and store auditory information. For example, slowing down and dragging out speech when giving instructions in a busy or loud room. Sounding different to the surrounding noises will help them key in to what you are saying and block out the unnecessary background noise.

Provide preferred seating

Choosing a seat that has natural noise blockers, such as a bookshelf, door, or curtain that may filter some sound can help these students from being auditorily overwhelmed. However, if that seat is in the back of a classroom, it is essential that the instructor projects and speaks slowly so they may hear lectures and assignments.

Help with sequencing

Particularly when providing oral instructions, utilizing sequencing terms such as first, second and last, can help students organize and prioritize instructions. Additionally, it is important to use transitioning sentences or statements when reading aloud, or changing topics during lectures, as this can help them organize and store the information they’ve just received, and prepare for the new information to come.

Assistive technology

For students who struggle more than others in following their instructor’s voice in a busy classroom, there is technology that can provide some extra support. For example, headphones that reduce background noise, or amplify the teacher’s speech via a microphone attached to the teacher’s collar.

By accommodating these unique learning barriers in the classroom, some students will be able to achieve equal access to information as their peers in most settings. However, if these accommodations are proving insufficient, and the student is still noticeably struggling, there are other resources to be considered.

Outside of the classroom assistance

Speech-language therapy

By working with a speech-language therapist, students can learn to strengthen their skills such as remembering sounds, sequencing sounds, or distinguishing sounds.

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Educational therapy

Educational therapists help students struggling with learning by teaching them to identify and compensate for their weaknesses, manage their frustration, bolster their confidence and accept their difficulties. Students are never too young to begin learning self-regulation —an essential and rewarding skill for anyone struggling with disorders.

Computer programs

There are a variety of “brain training” programs designed to help people identify and remember sounds. Finding a program that is right for your student can provide them with essential resources in areas where specialists are unavailable.

Those suffering from this disorder will encounter new and challenging obstacles throughout their lives. However, if intervention is provided at a young age children are able to avoid the negative feelings associated with scholastic failure such as anger, frustration, loss of interest, guilt, and lack of confidence.

Addressing these issues after the child has taken on these negative feelings makes the therapeutic process more difficult, as the child resists possible solutions. It is important the child and parent understand and accept that neurodiversity is a natural part of human existence, and with patience and persistence, these obstacles can be overcome in time.