What Did You Say?

I wonder how many people in our world, actually hear things clearly or properly? I think that so many people today, suffer from the problem of pretending to listen while putting in a regular obligatory 'yes' every so often, to give the impression that they are listening. They optimistically believe that they can do both; but the person trying to have a discussion usually finds that this kind of communication is a one way street, and a waste of their time. This is common amongst young people, usually searching through their social media on their phone; but while they may hear the words being spoken, they rarely understand or can recall what has been said.

For most people in this category, it is a bad habit, and in reality shows a complete lack of respect for the person who is trying to communicate with them.

There is however, a lesser known reason for people to not be able to listen and understand what is being said to them, and this condition is what I want to shed some light on today. The reason for this inability to hear and understand what has been said, has nothing to do with intelligence! It is caused by a little known condition called 'Auditory Processing Disorder'. The majority of educators know nothing of this condition and could not recognise the signs in a student. Therefore, they would also not know to recommend further testing, or conversely have any idea about how they could help with alternative approaches to assist the child's learning.

In fairness I had never heard about it either, until my daughter was diagnosed with it. As an educator myself, she was always a bit of a mystery to me. When I would talk to her one on one and explain things, there was no indication that she had any issues at all.

However, despite the fact that she was happy and well behaved at school, her test results and reports failed to reflect what I believed was her true intelligence. With a parent as a teacher, she was always respectful and enthusiastic to go to school, and she did all her work as requested; so no alarm bells were rang for any of her teachers. Had she been a naughty student and misbehaved, perhaps more attention may have been paid as to what was causing it.

It wasn't until she went to high school, that life started to become difficult for her. In high school, learning changes from a more 'doing' style of learning in primary school, to a more lecturing style of teaching. A child also goes from having one main teacher, to now having 6-8 different teachers; each with their own unique voice, accents, tone and style of teaching. Simultaneously boys voices become louder and deeper and can easily fill the air with noise, while girls just love to talk, lots more! All of these changes make it virtually impossible for a child with a hearing disorder, to hear the lessons clearly.

Auditory Processing Disorder is the result of both ears hearing two different sounds, and in my daughters case it was described by the tester, that it was like one ear was hearing in English and the other ear was hearing in German! The brain had to try and work out what the hell was being said. These students might hear "today students we are going to ...murmer, murmer, murmer....." My daughter, once diagnosed in Year 10, told me that in Year 7 & 8 she would put up her hand and ask the teacher what to do if she didn't know, only to be shouted at "I just explained to the whole class what to do 5 minutes ago"

The teacher was exasperated, thinking she, like many of the people described at the beginning of this blog, simply had not listened properly; because so few people are even aware of this condition. My daughter and all those like her suffering from this misunderstood and under diagnosed condition, were publicly humiliated, confused, angry and often became the brunt of bullying. Other students incorrectly assumed she was stupid, and did not hold back in telling her so. For a young teenager, this unwarranted negative behaviour, can have dire effects on their self esteem and anxiety and depression can easily take hold. At the very least they learn to hate school and mistrust and dislike both their peers and teachers.

A sad but common result of this condition going undiagnosed, are large holes in a person's learning and hence knowledge. Basic facts and understandings that we take for granted, thinking everyone would know, may have never been heard; and put simply, you can't know what you haven't heard. If you have a child who is also shy or quiet, or just too embarrassed to repeatedly ask for the teacher to come and help them one on one; then a lot of assumed basic knowledge may be completely missing from their knowledge base. This then has the ongoing result of making higher levels of learning very difficult. Many of these students deserve our highest regard, as they have sat at school for years and years, with not much making sense; and have endured hours of either confusion and/or boredom, probably staring out a window wishing they were anywhere but there.

Some common characteristics that these kids display is social awkwardness and difficulty with establishing and maintaining friendships. They find it extremely difficult to follow and hence join in with large group discussions at lunch or recess, as they cannot hear and process all the different voices and sounds. These are the students who either become the leader of the group, who dictates what is being spoken about or done (as this doesn't involve having to listen to anyone), or conversely the quiet person who rarely participates in conversations. They may be most notable by there absence in the group, often visiting the bathroom, canteen or library; just to escape their inability to join in on the chat.

As a result, they miss so much of the social nuisances, 'in talk", and may struggle to keep up with the latest happenings, socially, academically and they may also miss out on other spoken 'out of school' opportunities. Obviously their grades will be poor, unless they have been lucky enough to have parents who have provided them with a tutor. A tutor providing one on one learning in a quiet environment, or a home schooling situation where they can hear clearly or ask for clarification if they didn't hear or understand the first time, proves they can learn and understand just as well as anybody.

Having learnt about this condition, I wondered just how many of our under-performing students, may not actually be of lower ability, but simply have auditory processing disorder? It is often true that when these students, like my daughter, leave the school setting and get into learning in smaller settings or trades where they are taught more one on one; they actually excel and gain the respect and self esteem they have always deserved. Unfortunately, even if you know of this condition, the testing and diagnosis can cost $500+ and then there is the further expense of equipment and sound therapy to help fix the issue. This can preclude many people from an accurate diagnosis, the potential for treatment and a more normal hearing and learning life.

'Tomatis', is one of the main methods which can provide an auditory stimulation program, which through music and language, improves student's auditory/brain connections and hence understanding. I wonder if every child in school was provided with auditory processing testing and treatment, whether there would even exist the need for IQ testing or graded classes? We currently have no way of knowing just how prevalent this problem is, as so few people either know or test for it.

I also wonder how many students would be poorly behaved in school, if they could all hear and follow everything said in every lesson? Instead of punishments being handed out, perhaps schools should have a dedicated room where students could be sent to, where they can listen to a school owned collection of the 'Tomatis' music treatment. Classical music has long been documented as enhancing learning and memory retention, so even if students did not have auditory processing disorder but needed time out, it would also be beneficial to their learning. Could this be the answer for forward thinking, cutting edge schools; for disruptive, unhappy and under-performing students?

Imagine if every child was properly tested for Auditory Processing Disorder and those who needed it treated, when they first started school. I wonder how much the average IQ would rise and if the need for discipline would become greatly reduced. The potential for change to peoples lives is huge, if only people can 'Hear' about this condition and the treatment. Please share with anyone who you think this information may benefit, you may be changing the course of a child's life!

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