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Auditory Processing

by Laura Dyer, Author of Look Who's Talking!

Hearing problems include a number of disorders that involve the outer, middle, and inner ear and the neural pathway to the brain. When a child has difficulty understanding the signals that his ears send to his brain, this difficulty is called an auditory processing disorder. This disorder is sometimes misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although these disorders share the symptoms of a short attention span, auditory processing disorders don't respond to the medications that often help a child with ADHD. Children suffering from auditory processing disorders are frequently described as "not listening," "unable to follow direction," or "unable to learn from information they hear." Symptoms include the following:

  • Frequently asks a speaker to repeat what's been said
  • Has trouble understanding requests, especially if there's background noise
  • Has difficulty with longer directions involving several steps
  • May understand the words he's heard, but mixes up the order and gets the information confused
  • Seems to have selective hearing, or listens only to topics that interest him
  • Seems to understand the last part of a verbal message, but doesn't remember the first part
  • Frequently fails to respond to someone's comments, or provides a peculiar response
  • Has difficulty repeating the words or numbers in a sequence
  • Frequently repeats what he's been told, but doesn't seem to comprehend the message
  • Has problems with sound awareness and reading

If you child shows one or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about scheduling a screening to rule out a hearing problem. If hearing isn't the problem, get a referral to a speech-language pathologist to determine if your child has an auditory processing problem (as opposed to a different type of learning disorder.) An auditory processing problem can be serious. It may require a team of professionals to make an accurate assessment and determine an appropriate treatment.

In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to ease your child's frustration and help improve communication.

  • Get your child's full attention before speaking to him.
  • Limit background noise when talking to your child.
  • Talk to your child only when he's in the same room.
  • Make eye contact when talking to your child.
  • Talk slowly and keep your sentences short.
  • Ask your child to repeat your instructions to make sure he's understood them.
  • Encourage your child to ask for clarification if he's confused about something you've said.
  • Praise your child for being a good listener.

Excerpted from Look Who's Talking by Laura Dyer, with permission from the author. Visit her website at

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