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Why Kids with Auditory Processing Disorder Struggle to Follow Directions

Does your child have difficulty following multi-step directions? An Auditory Processing Disorder may be to blame.


Imagine this scenario: You've asked your child to go downstairs, grab their socks, bring them upstairs, put them in a drawer and begin their homework. Your child nods enthusiastically saying, "OK! I'll do that right now." You check on them 30 minutes later and find the socks in a heap on the ottoman and your child playing on an electronic device. You sternly ask your child what happened, and they are confused by your anger. In their minds, they have completed what you asked.

Where was the disconnect? Some parents chalk this up to laziness, but for children with auditory processing disorders, they struggle to remember a sequence of directions because they are unable to process lists of information, or may incorrectly hear the words or phrases that were spoken.

Auditory Processing Disorder and Following Directions

Since APD involves sound and how the ear processes words, it makes sense that children with this condition struggle with making sense of long, spoken commands. It also makes sense that many parents or teachers can confuse this with laziness, apathy or disobedience, since the child does not complete the task that you have clearly communicated. You may have asked your child to get the eggs out of the refrigerator and put them on the counter, but they have heard you say "legos" and are confused why there is a toy in the fridge. Other children with APD can properly hear the first direction in a sequence, such as "get the eggs," but have not processed the second or third parts of the instruction, which results in incomplete tasks.

Tips for Processing Disorders

Working with children with processing disorders requires different approaches to ensure that the child is able to complete tasks successfully. One tip is to use transition words such as "first," "next" or "finally" when explaining multi-step directions, so that the child is able differentiate the sequence of events. You can also ask questions or have the child repeat back the directions that were given to ensure clarity and comprehension.

In a classroom setting, seating in the front of the room and away from any distractions is the key to supporting students with APD. Some students find success using isolated study spaces, special noise-cancelling earphones or auditory aids such as a discreet microphone worn by the teacher to directly deliver instruction to the child's ear.

The most important tip, however, is to exercise patience. Understanding that the child is not being lazy or defiant, but needs extra care and assistance, will lead to positive behaviors both at school and at home.

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