Now Hear This: What is Auditory Dysfunction?

One of Kyle’s first symptoms of autism was his failure to respond to his name being called. He would sit amongst his toys, engrossed in whatever he was doing, and not turn his head when I shouted to him. Once in a while he would look, but frequently he didn’t. His lack of response was so strange that we had his hearing tested. But functionally, Kyle had normal hearing. Even so, hearing is more than just the process of an ear manufacturing sounds–it’s also the brain’s ability to interpret the sounds and respond appropriately. Often kids on the autism spectrum or those with ADHD or other forms of Sensory Integration Dysfunction have auditory processing difficulties.

Kyle, now fourteen, still shows signs of auditory dysfunction at times. When the family watches movies, he will often plug his ears and hum to himself. He is terrified of bumble bees, due to the sound of the buzzing. He seems unusually interested in clicks, snaps and other odd sounds. Clearly his brain interprets some sounds in atypical ways.

If your child hides and covers his ears when the washing machine is running, or if he puts a musical toy beside his ear to hear it play over and over, these may be signs of auditory dysfunction. Your son or daughter may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to sound, even though he or she can hear.

Here are some other possible things you might observe in a child with auditory dysfunction:

  • Looks to you for some sort of cue before responding to other people’s questions.
  • Is bothered by high-pitched, loud, sudden, buzzing, or motor sounds that don’t seem to affect anyone else.
  • Has difficulty differentiating between similar sounds, like the words dare and door.
  • Often gets directions confused and needs repeated reminders.
  • May not be able to tell where certain sounds are coming from, and may appear confused and look everywhere to find the source.
  • Has trouble with language and may speak with an unusually high-pitched or monotone voice. His speech may not be clear.
  • Has a hard time finding the words she needs and is frustrated with language.
  • Has trouble following along with the tempo of a song, and sings off-key.
  • May plus his ears at odd times or hum to himself. He may crave certain sounds and wants to hear them repeatedly.
  • Has a hard time following a conversation, especially when other people are talking around her or there are distracting sounds in the room.

What can be done?

Auditory integration therapy can be provided by an occupational therapist. This is a particular technique using sound stimulation, intending to improve listening skills. See my blog about auditory training for more information. Speech and language therapy can also be beneficial. There are specific games and activities you can use at home which can also help your child acclimate to sounds in order to tolerate them more readily. I’ll be writing more about some of these activities in future blogs.

Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.

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