By Patti Hamaguchi, M.A., CCC-SLP
Throughout May, in recognition of “Better Speech and Hearing Month,” I’ll be writing each week about one facet of an “action plan” for parents of newly-diagnosed children with auditory comprehensions weaknesses, exclusively for TechInEd.com! This week, we are highlighting some issues that may impact your child, both at home and at school, and some suggestions about what you can do.
How can I get my child to listen to me?
Children with auditory comprehension weaknesses often “tune out”, get confused, or forget what is said. This can be challenging, frustrating, and on some days downright maddening! So what can you do? Here are some simple tips:
- Work on transitions. Many times, we start talking to a child while they are actively involved in another activity, such as watching TV, doing a puzzle, etc. Children with slow auditory processing often have slow “rise times” (ability to alert and shift focus, process). Say your child’s name, wait, then say, “It’s time to listen” and give your child a 5-finger count, rising each finger, one at a time, while you count slowly: 1-2-3-4-5. Practice this, and reward your child—sticker/star charts work great for this, for stopping and looking at you (even if it’s a quick glance) within this timeframe. After they can make this transition, it’s a good time to start talking.
- Get closer! Speech is easier to understand, and attention is easier to get and maintain, when the acoustic signal is closer to the ear. Make sure you are at eye level, and move so your child can easily see and attend to you. About 2-3 feet away max is perfect.
- Write and draw: For important directions, keep blank paper and markers handy at all times. Make a quick sketch, with words underneath to show your child what you want him/her to do. Tape/clip it so it is easily visible. If possible, it’s even better to have your child do it as it will be more easily remembered, even if just drawing or writing one part. Visual, visual, visual! Children with weak auditory systems are often much stronger with visual skills, so if this is the case, use those strengths! If several steps are involved, number them 1-2-3.
- Break it down and keep it short: One direction orally at a time is best. Too much information can be overwhelming and result in a shutdown or inattention. Keep your language simpler and shorter.
- Slow down your rate: We know from research that children process language better when the pace and rate of speech is SLOWED down. Not in a way that sounds like a record on the wrong speed, but a slower, comfortable rate so the words have time to be processed. This is very, very important! Use expression and good volume so your child is easily engaged with the listening process.
- Use language he/she can understand. One of the biggest challenges parents can face—especially highly educated and verbal adults—is to watch the use of idiomatic expressions that can be confusing (“Mind your beeswax!”) or vocabulary terms that are unknown to the child. (“It doesn’t pertain to you, Joe!”) Typically-developing children can easily use contextual cues to figure out what the parent is saying, including the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. But for children with weak auditory systems, many times there are weaknesses in this area as well and so their ability to figure out what you are trying to say is further compromised because integrating all this information at once can be a challenge.
- Limit background noise: In many cases, auditory discrimination and figure-ground difficulties add to their listening challenges. Make a point to mute the TV, turn off the fan/faucet, and turn down the radio in the car, and other noise distractions, when you want to talk with our child.
What should the school be doing?
If your child has been formally assessed as we discussed last week, there will be test results and an IEP that should include accommodations. For most good teachers, the accommodations should be intuitive and a part of good teaching. In a self-contained special education class, these are basic principles of teaching as well. The issues that I tend to see tend to be in regular education classes where the teacher is a fast-talker and resists slowing down or repeating/restating important instructions or directions. In general, these are the typical types of instructional modifications that are recommended:
- Speak at a slower rate.
- Use sufficient volume and animation to keep the child’s attention.
- Seat in a preferential way—as close to the teacher as possible.
- In a regular ed class, consider a willing buddy that the child is able to ask for clarification of directions or instructions so he/she doesn’t have to wait until the teacher walks around and notices the worksheet or activity is not started or done correctly.
- Don’t penalize or chastise the child for asking for help. In fact, this should be praised and encouraged!
- Keep directions and important directions on the board so the child can write them, and not rely on auditory memory
- Get the child’s attention by name, before beginning to ask a question so there is time to transition attention/focus.
- Make sure the curriculum content is a good match. For some children, learning in a large class with a fast-paced curriculum, can be overwhelming, despite the teacher’s best intentions. Small schools, small classrooms, homeschooling, and self-paced online learning can be good alternatives.
- Subject-area tutors who can come to your home and reteach/preview the concepts can be invaluable. To reduce costs, consider hiring a superstar high school honors student or a local community college student. If you have more resources, an educational therapist is often a great support for academic and learning strategies.
- A speech-language pathologist or resource teacher can also work with your child at school and work as a liaison to ensure that your child’s auditory deficits are properly accommodated in the classroom.
- Individual therapy by a speech-language pathologist for treating the underlying auditory condition should usually be a part of the program or plan. In some cases, the self-contained special education classroom teacher incorporates this into the child’s program and less direct work is necessary.
In putting together your “Action Plan” for this week, focus on how the people and environment at home and school can help your child at his/her current level, so as to minimize frustration and confusion. Next week (Week #3), we’ll talk about Games and Activities to Strengthen Auditory Skills.
Patti Hamaguchi has been a speech-language pathologist for over 30 years. She is Director at Hamaguchi & Associates, a pediatric speech therapy practice in Cupertino, CA, and the author of Childhood Speech, Language & Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know, as well as several books on auditory processing disorders including “It’s Time to Listen” and “A Metacognitive Program for Treating Auditory Processing Disorders” (Proedinc.com). She is a columnist with Autism Bay Area, and an expert speech pathologist panelist on BabyCenter.com. Patti is also the founder and creator of Hamaguchi Apps for Speech, Language & Auditory Development.