Auditory Learning: How Do We Hear?
This article is the first in our auditory series. We will discuss how auditory processing and auditory learning is essential for academic achievement. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.
Every time you put on your headphones to go for a run, go to the symphony or simply listen to your kids playing outside, your body and your brain are playing a complicated game of telephone inside of your ear. There are many different parts of your ear that work together, communicating with one another extremely quickly to pass along the frequencies that you are hearing. Understanding how you and your child hear could help you identify potential problems in their auditory processing and auditory learning capability.
Learning and Hearing
Though it may be surprising because they are so common, many learning disabilities that involve auditory disorders are not with a child from birth, they are developed overtime and one primary cause can be from ear infections. The middle ear, those crucial tiny bones and muscles, fill up with water and become weak because they don’t work properly. Just like when adults don’t work out consistently, they lose muscle tone and when asked to do something physical, they struggle. So, what does this mean for learning? These children can struggle when they have to recognize sounds, like when learning to speak or learning to read. If they cannot hear words and their nuanced sounds, they are not going to be able to read them or write them with ease. These weak middle ear muscles can also make a child struggle with hearing when noise is happening in the background. If you have ever been in any classroom, it is usually noisy, making following directions almost impossible.
Children could also have behavior disorders due to ear problems. “We frequently accuse our children of having selective hearing, meaning that they choose to listen to things other than their parents. This can be the case, but because of the amount of energy the process of listening and storing auditory information requires, the child can do only so much listening before he or she tunes out because of the overload. At times these children are inaccurately diagnosed as having ADD when actually their attention is dependent on the amount of auditory processing that is required for a situation” (Diane Craft).
How Hearing Works
The following describes how your child’s hearing works and how it will affect their learning in the classroom.
The Middle Ear
Many people are familiar with the outer ear, the ear canal that leads to the eardrum. That’s where most people’s knowledge of the ear and the hearing process ends.
Located in the middle ear is the hammer, anvil and stapes, all very tiny bones with very tiny muscles attached. In fact, they are the smallest bones and muscles in the human body! These bones and the muscles attached to them basically act as a music producer for your brain. They make sure the high frequencies don’t drown out the low frequencies, so that you can hear someone talking at a party with music in the background. If these bones and their muscles don’t work well, “even the faintest sounds like dropping a needle or shuffling papers would become deafening” (How Do We Hear?). These bones and their muscles also can help us to hear when we speak. We can talk and still hear other sounds, not be overwhelmed with our own voice. The stirrup and its muscles also help us to not hear the sounds of our own bodies. That’s right, if it weren’t for these bones and muscles we would go crazy from the sound of our own heart beating.
The Inner Ear
After the sound and its’ frequencies are filtered through the hammer, and anvil, the stapes vibrates and let’s a part of the inner ear, the oval window, know what kind of sounds the brain should hear. At this point, the sound has arrived at the inner ear, consisting of the vestibule and the cochlea, also called the Labyrinth. The inner ear is filled with fluid and “the sound waves that were heard in the air become liquid waves in our head as it travels to the cochlea” (The Power of Sound). Inside the cochlea, there is a pathway that is lined with hair cells. “The sound moves along as a traveling wave through the fluid-filled cochlea, touching the hair cells. Here, the hair cells change the mechanical vibrations into electrical nerve impulses, or electrical signals” (How Hearing Works). These electrical signals are sent to the brain, where the hearing centers interpret the signals and tell the brain the sounds that we recognize.
The cochlea is important, but so is the vestibule. It controls our body and its’ movements. The cochlea allows us to hear and speak. The vestibule and its canals, the utricle, saccule and three semicircular canals, control our movements and when they cooperate, we can stand upright despite the pull of gravity.
Hearing and Auditory Learning Warning Signs
Children who have had many ear problems may show the following:
- Don’t follow directions
- Ask you to repeat what you said
- Seems to be ignoring you
- Does not seem to pay attention to sounds or speech most children would be interested in
- Sometimes their speech can be more unclear than is typical for their age
- + More
What You Can Do
First and foremost, contact a medical professional and express your concerns about your child’s ear issues. Let your child’s teacher know about their auditory learning problems and you can even ask for them to be evaluated by the special education team at your child’s school. The accommodations are available so that your child is given the help he or she needs to succeed in the classroom, despite their auditory problems. However, some schools only provide evaluations that test your child’s hearing ability. Auditory processing and auditory learning issues may need to be detected by a professional outside the school system. Remember, auditory processing issues are different from hearing issues. Your child may have perfect hearing, but still can’t process information through their ears.
In our experience, music therapy helps correct and improve auditory issues. An auditory issue cannot be tutored, but it can be improved with acoustically modified music. It will also improve your child’s language skills, speech, comprehension and literacy skills. If your child has auditory issues, they should be given more chances to learn information at home and at school through their auditory system. Learning gaps will only widen if their auditory issues are not corrected.
Learning through Visual Cues
If your child struggles to learn concepts through their auditory system (for example, if they have trouble following verbal instructions), provide more opportunities for your child to learn through visual cues. You can also ask the teacher to draw more pictures or include visual lessons that cater to their needs. The more visual these lessons there are, the better.
For some good visual resources, please review the following:
- See It, Read It, Write It
- Vowel Visuals
- Phonics Posters
- Spelling with Legos
- Brain Training
- Auditory Activities for Teaching Reading
- Apraxia and Phonics
Be patient with your child as they are learning how to accomplish important learning goals in a different way than most students. It is hard work!
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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