How Can I Help Students with Auditory Processing Disorder at School?

Picture of Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes
Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory Processing DisorderOne of your students has an auditory processing disorder. You know this because they have had a diagnosis by an audiologist or speech pathologist. Or perhaps you suspect that a student has this disorder because you observed their symptoms in the classroom.

Is there anything you can do to help them?  We asked Devon Barnes, speech pathologist and auditory processing disorder (APD) specialist for her advice.

Key points from the interview included

  • Seat the student closer to you
  • Try to make the classroom quieter
    • Put rubber tips on the legs of chairs
    • Use cork or cloth boards to absorb noise
    • Carpet is great if you can get it into the classroom
  • Check often that they understood what you have said
  • Use multi-sensory instruction whenever possible 

Watch the video interview:



Prefer to read the video transcript? Here it is.

How to Help Students with Auditory Processing Disorder at School

Interviewer: Devon, we talked briefly about what the symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder are in a classroom. If you're a proactive teacher or if you are in educational administration and you want to do something about your classrooms, what could you do?

Devon Barnes: There are lots of things you could do.  First of all, we would want to look at the physical environment. We have to try and reduce the amount of extraneous noise as much as possible. We can do really simple things, like having carpet on the floor, rubber tips on the bottom of chairs, and cork boards and cloth boards to absorb noise.

And then, for a child with APD, where are we going to seat that child? We need to seat the child quite close to the teacher so that the teacher can check for comprehension and make sure the child is understanding instructions so she can keep those subtle checks.

We don't want that child with auditory processing disorder at the very back of the room where the teacher is not going to have access to check in for comprehension.

Interviewer: Some schools have moved completely away from desks in rows. Is that a good approach?

Devon Barnes: Actually for a child with auditory processing disorder, it will depend again on where we seat them. They really should ideally be facing the teacher.

If we have actual seating around desks in clusters, you are only going to get a quarter of children in each table facing the teacher if the teacher is standing in the front of the room. For a child with APD, it's not the best way to seat the child.

Interviewer: Do we need to be that concerned that we start thinking about other noise, like noise coming from outside the classroom or air conditioners or fans or things like that?

Devon Barnes: Absolutely. We know one of the most distressing symptoms for a child with auditory processing is dealing with background noise.

So we need a child with this disorder away from fans and air conditioners and traffic outside (so not near a window, for example, that's near a busy road), and not near a corridor where you have other children running up and down, shouting and laughing. Just being thoughtful of where we seat that child and how we organize the environment.

Interviewer: Direct communication, face-to-face, removal of background noise. That's already going to do a lot without having to make major modifications to the classroom.

Devon Barnes: That's right. Also, one of the things that really helps that child with auditory processing is amplifying the teacher's voice. We can do that in two ways.

One we call a personal F.M. system, where the student wears a very tiny device in their ear and the teacher uses a microphone. The teacher's voice is really going directly to the ear of that child.

The limitations are that they are quite expensive, and the teacher has to learn how to use them so that when she's speaking to another child she has to make sure that her mic is turned off or that she's covered it up.

Another way of improving what we call the call the signal to noise ratio for students is having the whole classroom amplified with a sound field system.

There are various ones of those on the market today, some of them quite affordable. Here the teacher again wears a microphone and the sound amplifier is placed in a strategic position in the classroom where that sound is delivered equally to every child in the classroom.

Interviewer: So it's like a public address system.

Devon Barnes: That's right, so whether the child is sitting in the front row or the back row they will equally receive the teacher's voice. Teachers also love these devices because they don't have to shout anymore, and so it's very good for the teacher because he or she will not end up with vocal strain from shouting at the children.

Interviewer: Unless you just shout at children. It doesn't happen that often, does it?

Devon Barnes: Well, you'd be surprised.

Interviewer: So are a lot of schools taking up these systems? If, for example, a sound field system is going to benefit everybody, are people doing it?

Devon Barnes: Some schools are. I know in our area here several of both public and private schools have made their schools auditory processing friendly. I think it is becoming more common and as new schools are being designed I think a lot of schools are bearing these issues in mind to help all students.

Interviewer: Devon, we have also talked briefly before about multiple intelligences. Can we bring a little bit of that in when we are dealing with auditory processing disorder strategies?

Devon Barnes: Absolutely. Every classroom is going to have at least one or two children in the classroom with either an auditory processing disorder or a language processing disorder. If a teacher can use multi-sensory strategies as much as possible, all of the students get to benefit from that, not just the students with APD.

We know these children have much more difficulty processing in background noise, retaining what they hear, and processing instructions. So if the teacher can accompany verbal instructions with visual cues such as diagrams, graphs, even written summaries, it really helps that student.

Interviewer: Or practical demonstrations perhaps?

Devon Barnes: Absolutely. Hands-on teaching is very good. Many students, we know, learn better by doing than by listening, so the more practical strategies we can use the better.

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 Related Posts

What is Auditory Processing Disorder?
How strong is the link between Auditory Processing Disorder & Dyslexia?
How can Teachers detect Auditory Processing Disorder inn the Classroom?
Auditory Processing Disorder - Background Noise

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