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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Hmm… Is it a hearing problem or an auditory processing problem?

If your child is failing in school and had ear problems
as a baby, the difficulty may be due to poor auditory
processing. This impairment seems to affect boys more than

Some children cannot screen out conflicting noises and miss
much of what is said. This problem often goes undetected because
they can hear in a one-on-one situation when the adult looks
right at them, but fail to get the message when competing sounds
interfere. They cannot seem to ignore distractions.

A Central Auditory battery of standardized tests may be in
order especially if you constantly describe your son as a child
who never listens to anybody. Even without testing, however,
you can begin to help your son if you suspect there is a problem.
Get his full attention before speaking to him. Stoop down to
his level and make eye contact. When you are sure you have his
full attention, make your sentences and requests short and
concise. Then ask him to repeat back to you what you have just
said to him. Do not talk to him when he has his back to you. He
will not understand what you have said and you will both end up
angry and frustrated.

You can help him to increase his ability to attend and to
disregard distractions by means of games. One game might be
to ask him to carry out a series of verbal commands in
sequence. If he follows the sequence correctly, he wins the
game and the prize. For example: ” John there is something
hidden in the third drawer of the bureau on the right side.”
“Find it and bring it to me.” For other ideas for listening
games, ask your librarian. Also, look for games for Christmas
presents which involve listening and following directions.

Many elementary teachers make adjustments to their teaching
style almost automatically when the child has difficulty
processing information. They get the child’s attention first
and have him repeat the direction given. Middle school teachers,
however, tend not to do this. In middle school, there are more
teachers with more classes and more children to get to know.
These teachers tend to lecture while walking up and down the
aisle. Children with processing problems miss most, if not all,
of what is said. That is why this problem may not manifest itself until middle school.

Auditory processing problems do not necessarily mean a
child has ear problems. The difficulty has to do with the brain
not the ear. Any ear problems, once discovered, were probably
corrected as a baby. In the meantime, however, the baby did not
hear well when the “window of opportunity” for learning
ressive and receptive language was open.

There are other children, however, who do have undiagnosed
ear defects. Be concerned if your child is not disturbed by
loud noises; does not respond when spoken to; uses gestures
almost exclusively to establish needs rather than verbalizing;
watches adults’ faces intently; his attention wanders while
someone is reading to him; often says “huh” or “what” indicating
he does not understand; he breathes with his mouth open.

When hearing problems go undetected, children have problems
in school which are usually attributed to other reasons. These
children are restless, have short attention spans, are distracted
in groups, and are seldom first to do what the teacher asks. In
addition, they are unaware of social conventions like
automatically saying, “thank you.”, “I’m sorry”. They grab
another child to get his attention rather than saying his name
and, in general, are unaware of disturbing others with noises.

Children with hearing problems may not be able to
communicate or to use words as effectively as their peers. As a
result they may appear to be less intelligent than they really
are. When tested, they may do poorly because they do not
understand the questions and may guess or say “I don’t know.”
This appears to confirm the hypothesis of limited intelligence.
These children often have behavior problems because they are not
sure what is expected of them.

Since most hearing problems are correctable, either through
operations or hearing aids or education, it is important that
parents be vigilant to catch them early.

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