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Sensory Processing and the Auditory System

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Sensory Processing and the Auditory System

In honor of World Listening Day, we’re looking at sensory processing and the auditory system. The auditory system is how we hear sounds in our environment. This intricate system includes your outer ear, inner structures, and brain regions.

The auditory system, when functioning optimally, helps you determine the frequency and location of sounds, process them, and respond. It also enables you to understand communication, pick up on things like sarcasm, and much more.

What is Auditory Processing?

Auditory processing is how you process auditory information or sounds. You do it every day without thinking, but it’s actually pretty complex! You don’t just hear all day long; you filter unnecessary sounds, decide where sounds are coming from, understand the meaning of sounds and words, and respond accordingly.
But what if something goes wrong in the auditory system?
As with other bodily systems, wires can get crossed, and the process can break down. Auditory Processing Disorder doesn’t involve hearing loss; it involves mixed messages and confusion.

Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder 

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) means the signals sent between the ear and the brain get mixed up and confused. With APD, this usually affects the ability to understand words. For example, a child with APD will have perfect hearing but struggle to make sense of speech.

Difficulty processing and understanding speech can lead to significant problems at home and school. Children with APD might also have learning disorders, speech delays, or other diagnoses like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder include:
  • Reading, spelling, and learning issues
  • Trouble understanding rapid speech
  • Difficulty determining the origin of a sound
  • Trouble learning songs or short stories
  • Unable to understand jokes or sarcasm (older children)
  • Problems understanding language in loud environments
  • Frequent requests that others repeat what they have said
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Easily distracted


Symptoms of Auditory Hypersensitivity

Auditory Hypersensitivity involves extreme sensitivity to sounds in the environment. As you might expect, this kind of sensitivity can create significant challenges. Imagine going into fight-or-flight mode whenever you hear a vacuum cleaner or lawn mower!
Your stress would be persistent, and your body would be under constant stress. There are usually obvious signs if your child is experiencing this kind of hypersensitivity.
Symptoms of Auditory Hypersensitivity include:
  • Easily distracted by sounds other people would consider small or insignificant
  • Trouble tolerating “everyday” sounds like blenders, vacuums, etc.
  • Extreme reactions to “everyday” sounds: screaming, covering ears, etc.
  • Telling you certain sounds cause them “pain”
  • Easily startled and then unable to calm down afterward


How to Help with Auditory Processing Issues

Now that we’ve looked at some of the symptoms and issues associated with auditory processing, let’s talk about solutions! The good news about auditory processing disorders and sensitivity is that there are some practical, effective ways you can help.
You can support your child by:
  • Getting them tested
  • Getting a Speech Therapy referral
  • Give your child extra time to process speech/instructions
  • Communicate your child’s needs to teachers and other adults
  • Role-play different situations with your child to try and see what their challenges are
  • Meet with teachers to discuss potential strategies
  • Expressing empathy and listening to your child
  • For sensitivity - over-the-ear headphones can mute environmental sounds or allow them to listen to soothing music
  • Warn your child of impending loud noises so they can prepare or leave the room
As you experiment with your own strategies and solutions, you will undoubtedly develop ingenious ways to help your child. Keep a notebook to record your child’s unique challenges, possible solutions, and important victories.

Conclusion: Sensory Processing and the Auditory System

Everyone has their unique way of processing the world around them. If your child struggles with auditory processing, remember that there are plenty of resources, tools, and professionals who can help. Most of all, take heart, knowing that your empathy and understanding will make a world of difference to your child no matter what they face.
Remember, you can look to the Sensory Scout community for even more tips and strategies. Access sensory products, community encouragement, teletherapy sessions, and more. Join our Facebook Group today to keep connecting and exploring.