“Children with dyslexia often exhibit increased variability in sensory and cognitive aspects of hearing relative to typically developing peers.”
– Hornickel et al., 2012 PNAS
There is a long research history establishing auditory processing difficulties among children and adults who are dyslexic.
What may be confusing to non-scientific people is that auditory processing is not simply “hearing”.
It relates to the complex networks in the brain that interpret what sounds are heard.
Auditory processing difficulties in dyslexic people don’t present with abnormalities on simple screening hearing tests; instead, the difficulties present in tests that examine the effect of listening over background noise, for instance, or processing of rapid sounds.
The reason it’s important to be aware of this is that auditory processing difficulties are often not formally overlooked and untested, although they may have significant consequences with school and work performance.
Dyslexia-related auditory processing difficulties may contribute to difficulty in acquiring phonological mastery, but also problems with auditory distractions, hearing over background noise, and sustained attention through listening alone.
Several studies have shown that dyslexic students as a group have more difficulty hearing quick sounds – so that might explain why it’s so important to pronounce slowly and with exaggeration when correcting sounds or teaching new sounds or words.
With the COVID pandemic, individuals with auditory processing difficulties may have difficulty hearing when teachers are talking through masks (sound is muffled, can’t see mouth positions) and when lessons are online, they may have sound distortion and delays that make it difficult to hear sounds clearly and engage in back-and-forth online discussions.
AUDITORY PROCESSING IN PANDEMIC CLASSROOMS
– Masked teachers should be aware of that their students may have trouble accurately hearing them. Investigate personal amplifiers.
– Slow down your pronunciation of new words and sounds. Use pictures, and visual examples to clarify sounds (color, capitalization).
– Present pictures of mouth positions or watch videos together with your class to see how new words or sounds are pronounced.
– If you are unable to allow students to see your mouth positions when you are speaking, then watch a high quality video where sounds and mouth positions can be seen at the same time.
– For remote classrooms, recognize that connectivity problems may interfere with accurate audio and pictures and sounds being “in sync.”
– Do not grade classroom discussions for students with auditory processing difficulties. Talk to students individually about their needs and brainstorm alternative ways students can contribute to classroom discussions.
From audiologist Jeanane Ferre:
“Repeat information with associated visual cue and/or demonstration. With reduction of visual, i.e., lipreading cues/facial expressions resulting from use of facemasks, speakers should increase use of demonstration, cueing, gestures, body language, etc. to compensate.
For multistep directions, provide number of steps, e.g., “I want you to do three things”, “tag” items, e.g., first, last, before, after, , and insert brief (1-2 second) pause between items.
Allow “thinking time”, i.e., insert “wait time” of up to 10 seconds before expecting a response.
Ask listener to paraphrase instructions to ensure that information was heard AND understood.
Monitor your speaking rate. Children do not process speech as quickly as adults (Hull, 2014).
3-5 yr-olds process speech at 120-124wpm
5-7 yr-olds process at 128-130 wpm
5-6th graders at 135 wpm
Middle school-high school at 135-140 wpm
Adults process speech at 160-180 wpm”
Her list of accommodations includes advanced notice of material (e.g. study guide) at the beginning of a unit, audiobooks, copies of teacher notes, “hard copies” of materials through e-learning, limit oral exams, use multiple choice or “closed set” type tests, extended time for tests, option for recorded copy of remote lectures, listening breaks throughout the day to minimize auditory fatigue.
She encourages students to ask for repetition and clarification when needed and use of digital recordings and smart pens or note-taking apps for routine classroom use.