Poor Listening Skills - Could it be Auditory Processing Disorder?

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Peter Barnes
Auditory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, Fast ForWord

Do you have a child or student with poor listening skills?

At home you might ask your child to do something like, "go and put on your school clothes, get your jacket and put your library book in your school bag". He or she may look confused or just say "huh", or actually go and just get one or two of the three things done.

In the classroom, the student with poor listening skills will have trouble keeping up with classroom discussions, following instructions and learning information when it is presented to them by the teacher's voice.

Parents and teachers often assume that children like this are deliberately ignoring them, have something wrong with their hearing, or are just not paying attention.  They could be right, but if the child's hearing is fine, their poor listening skills may be due to an auditory processing disorder (APD).

This disorder is not the same as a hearing loss or inattention.

A child with APD can clearly hear what is said to them but they have trouble working out what it means.  For them it can sound a bit like what happens when you're trying to have a conversation in a noisy room. You can hear the person who is speaking to you but you can't make out what they're saying because of the background noise.

If this is what classroom sounds like your child, it's no surprise that they will ' tune out'. The result is that children with APD often achieve well below their potential at school despite having nothing wrong with their intelligence.

Helping improve listening skills

So how do you figure out if your child, or the student in your classroom who has trouble listening, has APD? 

First, check their hearing to make sure it's fine. Then an assessment by an audiologist or speech pathologist will be able to determine whether the poor listening is because of auditory processing disorder. The assessment will also consider whether the child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), auditory processing disorder (APD), or specific language impairment (SLI), because some APD symptoms can be present in these other disorders.

If it's APD that is the cause of the poor listening skills, there are two key ways to help: compensatory strategies for home and school, and targeted neuroscience – based interventions.

Compensatory strategies

Strategies for home include making sure you have your child's full attention and that they are facing you when you speak to them.  See 8 tips that you can use at home.

Teachers can use similar strategies to the ones for parents at home, plus some that are specific to the classroom environment. See more strategies to help APD students at school

Targeted neuroscience – based interventions

The most widely used and validated intervention for APD is the Fast ForWord program. It has been used in schools and clinics for the last 15 years and has research backing.

A study by leading APD researchers at Auburn University, USA,  found that the Fast ForWord program improved auditory processing skills and also created positive changes in the children's brain structures which support better auditory processing. After using this neuroscience-based online program, the children were better able to:

  • Follow instructions
  • Listen to speech where there is background noise (like there often is in a classroom)
  • Decipher words that are not very clear
  • Remember complex sentences


 Download Helpful Strategies for Children with APD