Could Auditory Processing Disorder be the Reason your Child is Struggling to Read?

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Peter Barnes
Auditory Processing Disorder

Is your child having difficultly learning to read? Is he or she reluctant to read?   There are a number of reasons why some children struggle with reading, even with the best teachers and diligent, encouraging parents.

Maybe you have had his, or her, eyesight checked. No problem there. (Of course children with poor sight, or other visual problems like inability to track their eyes from left to right across a page will not find it easy to learn to read. And you need to have any visual problems treated as a very first step to help them).
But if not sight, what could be the problem? It will not be because your child is “lazy”. Children are natural learners, they are inquisitive, they want to learn, they want to be doing what their friends are doing. So they are motivated to learn to read, but if they find it hard, they can quickly become demoralised and demotivated.  They may even think they are “not smart”.

If you have a child like this, investigate their auditory process ability.  Research, including brain imaging studies, shows that auditory processing disorders are the main cause of reading difficulties.

What is Auditory Processing?

Auditory processing is what your brain does with what your ear hears. The sound signal registers in the ear and then it is “processed for meaning” in the brain. For some people, the processing does not work as it should and these people are classified as having auditory processing disorders, or APD.

According to reading expert, Dr Martha Burns Ph.D, auditory processing disorder is not a hearing loss and not an attention problem, even though it might seem as though your child is not paying attention.

Rather, she says, a child with APD has trouble figuring out what was said. This is what happens to us when we are trying to listen to someone talk in a very noisy room, like at a party.

We know the person is speaking—we can hear their voice—but we can’t easily understand what they are saying. After a while it gets so hard to listen we just tune out. Imagine you are a child and speech always sounds muddled like that. The child’s natural instinct, just like yours, is just to stop listening. As a result, children with APD often achieve way under their potential in learning and reading.

Two common signs of auditory processing disorder

  • Does your child have problems following directions? For example, you might say something like, “Jason, go to your bedroom, get your shoes, pick up your homework book and put it in your school bag”.  Maybe he just says, “huh?”, or acts as though he didn’t hear a word.
  • Your child’s teachers may describe him or her as having poor listening skills because the same thing happens in class—they fail to follow the teacher’s instruction. They have difficulty learning information when it is presented orally.
How does APD make it hard to learn to read?

Auditory processing disorder can make your child unable to hear the difference between similar sounds, like “b” and “d” or “f” and “v”. Not being able to hear the differences will make it very hard for them to learn to read. They will have trouble for example in sounding out words with these sounds in them.
And because so much of learning depends on reading and the ability to understand what is being said, auditory processing disorders contribute to learning difficulties as well as reading problems.