Auditory Processing and Autism

Children with autism tend to have strong visual processing skills, which helps them learn through sight; this means teachers tend to rely on visual methods. While it is always helpful to utilize a child’s strengths in learning, it is also beneficial to target and improve their weaker skills. For kids on the ASD spectrum, this can help move mild-to-moderate autism forward with communication skills and academic performance.

A commonly overlooked skill is auditory processing- the way the brain distinguishes, analyzes and manipulates sounds. This skill gives us the ability to read fluently and understand what we read; it also helps us attend to and comprehend directions and information. By improving auditory processing skills in autistic children, you can strengthen language skills and also reduce auditory hypersensitivity.

Kids with autism tend to exhibit weaknesses with auditory attention and memory. Sound is fleeting, which means that some kids may not have enough time to interpret and retain the information. This weakness can hinder language learning. As you might guess, language is the primary way we understand and communicate thoughts. Poor language skills hinder a child’s ability to listen in the classroom, read, and participate in group settings.

What You Can Do

 Parents and teachers have told me that, after working on auditory skills, they noticed improvements in their children’s ability to follow directions, to pay attention during class, comprehend what they read, and be aware of their environment. Educators and clinicians often immediately try accommodations: adjusting the environment, assigning a specific place for the child to sit, reducing noise, or altering the task so the child can work more on his own.

However, I prefer trying to first boost the child’s sound awareness. If we start by trying to go around the problem, instead of going through it, it can take longer to achieve the result you’re looking for. Here are few tips for targeting and strengthening auditory processing:

  • You can boost sound awareness by working to improve the child’s ability to hear song rhythms or to clap to a metronome.
  • One way to improve phonemic awareness by reading something and asking the child to tap the table when he hears a particular sound, for instance the “J” in, “Jack and Jill went up the hill.” Also, starting with real words can be a confidence booster before moving on to nonsense words that will be further challenge auditory skills.
  • One great exercise to try is asking your child, “What position is the vowel in?” In the nonsense word “ilt,” the vowel is in the first position; in “dra,” it’s in the third.
  • You can also use an FM system to jump-start your rapid listening. Since discrimination of sounds can be a challenge for children with autism, try using holding a microphone at your mouth. This ensures that the sound is carried straight to your child’s ear and provides clearer input with less distortion.

These are a few simple techniques to help your child focus on and manipulate sounds. Since children on the autism spectrum tend to have difficulty with the rhythm of their speech and to speak in a monotone voice.

Once these games become easier for your child, move on to practice listening to directions. You might even try adding a delay, so that he has to wait a few seconds before responding or performing the task; this reinforces both auditory sequencing and memory skills. You can use these techniques either with a speech language pathologist or on your own; targeting these skills can offer some encouraging improvements for your child.

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