Listening Skills

Two of my children have difficulties with auditory processing, attention, and working memory. I have been working on their listening skills for most of their lives. I officially started “speech therapy” activities with Josh when he was 2 years old, although as a speech/language pathologist I was basically using communication strategies with him since birth. (Ah, the joys of being the firstborn, right?) By the time Beckie came along five years later I was incorporating therapy techniques throughout our daily activities. Whereas my daughter Beth would listen and respond the first time I said something, the other two often seemed to tune out or mis-hear what I’d said. (This happens with my husband as well, but I never approached him about working on it!) We did many activities together over the years to address the auditory processing difficulties, but one of our favorites was to read a familiar story together but alter it as we went along. I would begin the story, but change a key feature to see if the children were listening and paying attention. For example, I’d start out reading the traditional story of the Three Little Pigs, but when the wolf came to the door I’d have him huff and puff and threaten to take all their macaroni and cheese. The children would giggle and tell me that wasn’t what happened, and then we worked on oral language expression as they told me how the story should go. We did similar activities with flannel board stories, and I would deliberately change the story and put the flannel pieces on out of order to see if the children noticed. Sometimes the changes to the story were subtle, and other times illogical to help the children develop their ability to sequence events and make logical predictions. Another favorite activity was to listen to recorded stories. The children liked following along with the audio books and turning the page when they heard the beep, but I also had them listen to stories that did not have books accompanying them. That way, they had to just tune in to the auditory piece and visualize what they were hearing without visual cues to rely on. The ability to visualize is important to reading comprehension and was a fun way to work on auditory skills. Just be sure to listen to the recording yourself, first, to make sure the narrator is animated and interesting to listen to or your child may become bored and tune it out. I enjoy listening to audio books as I do various tasks, and I know firsthand that having a good narrator is key to enjoyment and the ability to attend to what’s being said. For young children or those with a short attention span, a collection of short stories might be best. Older students, even those who can read by themselves, may enjoy an entire audio book. To check comprehension, stop the recording periodically and ask a few questions. I always asked my kids how they pictured different characters and what they might look like. The more details that children visualize, the better the chances that they will remember what they’ve heard.

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