Listening is the skill of receiving and interpreting messages in verbal communication. This is essential for language development. Many people may be able to hear, but they are unable to listen. For children with sensory processing challenges, listening can be quite difficult. They may be able to hear different sounds in the environment, but may not be able to distinguish what they need to listen to and interpret them. For example, some children may hear the buzzing of a light, or swooshing of a fan or ticking of a clock, detracting from being able to listen to the sounds they need to focus on e.g. spoken language. They may be focused on the person’s smell, or the way they move, or the way they look and not be able to listen to what the person is saying. Some people may find it very difficult to listen to the important spoken message in a noisy background environment (e.g. noisy restaurant) or in an environment where there is a lot of reverberation (echoes). Other children may be able to hear spoken language, but may not be able to discriminate between certain sounds or the way sounds come together e.g. a child may be able to interpret the word ‘swing’, by seeing a swing or even lip reading, but may mix it up with the word ‘swim’ if they do not see the visual cues as the words may sound alike. This could be quite distressing for a child who hears ‘Let’s go for a swing’ and in their mind they have already formed an image of going for a ‘swim’. Speech Pathologists work on helping children become aware of sounds and discriminate between different sounds e.g. ‘m’ and ‘b’. The step prior though, is working on regulation, attention and being able to tolerate different sounds, integrate and make sense of them in your brain. Our Occupational Therapist works on helping children regulate, attend to, distinguish and integrate different sensory experiences. Our Early Childhood Educator helps children develop the skills of listening in noisy, visually distracting environments.
If your child is not attending to sounds and/or speech, he or she may need an auditory (hearing) test. If the auditory test comes back as the child not having any issues with hearing, then it may be a listening problem. We often refer to this as an auditory processing issue i.e. being able to make sense of sounds and focus on or tolerate sounds that are significant, while blocking out others.
If your child is having challenges listening and you would like strategies to best support them, please contact us for a consultation.