Auditory Processing Weakness
Auditory Processing Weakness (APW) is a common cause of reading difficulty which can often be overlooked. It is thought that between 5 and 10% of school-age children have APW, and this weakness can significantly affect a child's ability to learn how to read.
There are many symptoms of APW. The most common ones are:
- The child behaves as if there has been a hearing loss, but their hearing has been tested as "normal"
- Problems with hearing in the presence of ambient noise
- Problems distinguishing between sounds that are similar
- Missing subtle social cues
- Regularly misinterprets what is being said, but doesn’t realise it has been misinterpreted
- Seems to have attention issues when actually they’re looking around for clues on how to respond.
- Speech delay and/or speech issues from a young age
- Difficulty following auditory instructions, especially if they are listed
- Often says "what?" or "huh?"
- Often won’t respond to a question
- Answering questions with inappropriate responses
- Sensitivity to loud sounds or a dislike for noisy places.
Auditory processing weakness is not an issue with the hearing of sounds, but rather an issue with how the brain interprets what is being heard. Difficulties then occur with speech because differences between sounds can be extremely subtle and thus more difficult for an individual with APW to detect. The presence of background noise often makes hearing words even more challenging.
But even without background noise, people with APW often have difficulty distinguishing the differences between similar parts of speech. For example, you can say "Please go to your room and get your blue coat," and the person may hear "Please go on your broom and get your bed note."
Those with significant auditory processing weakness can perceive speech as "blending together" or seeming "muddled." Therefore when a child with an auditory processing weakness begins to read, they have significant difficulty learning the distinct sounds (phonemes) that are used to make words.
Muddied sounds causing inconsistent learning
When a child is taught to read they are taught the alphabetic principal. These early lessons begin with teaching sounds, known as "phonemes", and how these sounds correspond to letter patterns known as "graphemes." In addition to learning these letter/sound combinations; the child must master their "phonologic" awareness. Phonologic awareness is the ability to break words apart (decoding) into their phonemes and put them back together (blending) in order to make a word.
Since children with APW often confuse similar sounds, it can be very hard for them to learn very specific phoneme pronunciations, especially when they are being delivered verbally. This in turn causes great difficulty in learning how to decode the sounds that make up a word.
Environment contributing to the problem
Because environment effects how a child with auditory processing weakness interprets sounds, the environment if a classroom can make the learning process even more of a struggle. What a child learns one day in a quiet room can sound very different the next day when the washing machine is on! When reading to your child at home it sounds very different than a teacher reading in a classroom of 30 kids who are all shuffling and making noise. This inconsistent input of reading instruction makes learning the phonemes and word structure very difficult.
For a child who doesn’t have APW, reading lessons are more consistent because they will sound the same day after day. This consistency allows the child to build up an understanding of letter/sound combinations. A child with APW is faced with lessons that can sound like something completely new depending on which day of the week they hear it! This clearly causes confusion because there appears to be no repetition of material at all. Such an apparent lack of reiteration causes an extreme slowing of the learning process.
Children with APW compensate by sight reading
Children with APW often have average or above-average intelligence. Therefore to avoid the unpredictable learning situation, they will turn to their visual strengths as a strategy for learning how to read. They won't bother to decode words, but rather they will learn whole words as an image, like memorising shapes or pictures. Of course the child might still have difficulty distinguishing words that sound similar, but the confusion is decreased since they are no longer breaking the words down into separate phonemes.
In the short-term, this is an effective strategy for the child, but as they approach 7 or 8 years of age, the number of words they are required to know can reach into the 1,000's. As they struggle to learn new words, others are forgotten, and reading becomes very hard indeed. In addition, a child with APW must be taught every new word they are faced with, since the child has no strategy for decoding words in order to sound them out. This pattern of memorising whole words is what we call Optilexia.
The primarily auditory-only approach used by most schools is not the best method for teaching a child with APW. The ideal approach would be to supplement their reading instruction with a method that engages the visual and/or kinaesthetic styles in order to expand the ways that the child can learn phonemes and therefore, decoding. By engaging the other senses, the child has a way to learn decoding, and can progress with reading more quickly.
Guided Phonetic Reading (GPR) is the perfect solution for children with auditory processing weakness. The visual characters in the Guided Phonetic Reading system provide a consistent structure for the sounds, while at the same time helping the child to learn phoneme/sound combinations. Every time the child sees a GPR character, that child knows the sound that it is associated with, and that sound never changes. As a result, the child is able to rely on their visual strengths to learn to read phonetically; a knowledge which provides a strategy for decoding all unknown words.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
Children who have severe auditory processing weakness may have auditory processing disorder (APD). In this case traditional methods to teach phonetic reading almost always fail. If you feel your child exhibits a lot of signs of APD, you may consider having a full assessment done by a qualified audiologist. We have compiled a directory of audiologists who diagnose APD.