Auditory Processing Weakness

How auditory processing issues cause reading difficulty

Auditory Processing Weakness (APW) or Auditory Processing Deficit (APD) is a common cause of reading difficulty. It is thought that between 5 and 10% of school-age children have APW, and this weakness can significantly affect a child’s ability to learn how to read, because it is hard to work out the sounds in words when you have APW. That then makes phonics very hard to apply as you try to read.

Symptoms of auditory processing weakness

There are many symptoms of APW.  The most common ones are:

  • The child behaves as if there has been a hearing loss, but their hearing has been tested as “normal”
  • Problems with hearing in the presence of ambient noise
  • Problems distinguishing between sounds that are similar
  • Regularly misinterprets what is being said, but doesn’t realise it has been misinterpreted
  • Seems to have attention issues when actually they’re looking around for clues on how to respond.
  • Speech delay and/or speech issues from a young age
  • Difficulty following auditory instructions, especially if they are listed
  • Often says “what?” or “huh?”
  • Often won’t respond to a question
  • Sensitivity to loud sounds or a dislike for noisy places

Causes of auditory processing weakness

Auditory processing weakness is not an issue with the hearing of sounds, but rather an issue with how the brain interprets what is being heard. Difficulties then occur with speech because differences between sounds can be extremely subtle and thus more difficult for an individual with APW to detect. The presence of background noise often makes hearing words even more challenging.

This weakness is often triggered by some glue ear when the child is 2 or 3 years old, because that is when the auditory processing is developing. If the hearing is muffled at that age the auditory cortex is delayed in development.

There is also the potential for a magnocellular weakness element. The magnocellular pathways manage the ‘big picture’ elements of the senses and a weakness in those channels mean that the auditory picture is less clear. Sounds are more like white noise and hard to distinguish. We think of it as natural to be able to make sense of the mass of different auditory signals around us, but when you look at the wave plot of those sounds, you can see what an amazing ability it is.

Children with APW compensate by sight reading

Children with APW often have average or above-average intelligence. They will usually turn to their visual strengths as a strategy for learning how to read. They won’t bother to decode words, but rather they will learn whole words as an image, like memorising shapes or pictures.

In the short-term, this can be an effective strategy for the child, but as they approach 7 or 8 years of age, the number of words they are required to be able to read can reach into the thousands. As they struggle to learn new words visually, others are forgotten, and reading becomes very hard indeed.

So the child with APW can have similar reading patterns to the Optilexic, but just for different reasons.

The solution for auditory processing weakness

You can hammer away at conventional phonics with one of these children for years without success. It can be a very tough experience for both child and teacher/parent. But we find that the visual phonics we use in Trainertext works well for them. We don’t really know of another solution.

The Trainertext visual characters in the system provide a consistent structure for the sounds, while at the same time helping the child to learn phoneme/sound combinations. Every time the child sees a Trainertext character, that child knows the sound that it is associated with, and that sound never changes. As a result, the child is able to rely on their visual strengths to learn to read phonetically; a knowledge which provides a strategy for decoding all unknown words.