When people hear of sensory processing difficulties or sensory integration, they often think of that child who covers their ears on the train or at a birthday party. The child that cannot handle noise. This is because auditory sensitivity (a low threshold/ tolerance of noise input) is increasingly common and without treatment can be disabling for a child.
In order to have optimal auditory processing, you need to be able to filter out the irrelevant/ unimportant background noise and focus on the important auditory information, such as an instruction. For example, if we are out to dinner with a friend, we are able to filter out all of the background noises and clutter and focus on our friend and that conversation, without becoming overly distracted by it. Similarly, in a classroom, children need to be able to filter out the other children’s pencils writing, the clock ticking, the blocks that have just crashed onto the floor, and zone in and listen to the teacher’s instructions.
If a child has difficulties with auditory filtering, they are possibly noticing every single sound input in their surrounding environment, and often at a higher decibel that you or I perceive that same noise. This can result in them feeling overwhelmed and distracted.
There are two common responses to this sensation: either "block out" and avoid the noise input e.g. running away from the environment/ covering their ears or they remain in the environment, however, they appear as if they have “shut down”- nothing is going in or out.
If your child is experiencing this in their classroom you can be assured that they are missing out on learning opportunities, which is not ideal.
To support these children, we need to be mindful of the amount of noise generated within the classroom (alter or control the environment) as well as support the child by offering them some relief.
These are some of my common classroom recommendations to support auditory sensitivity and filtering difficulties:
Allow the child an opportunity to work in a smaller group (2/3 people, rather than 4-5).
Sit them away from additional noises such as a wall clock, fan, the window or door. As well as consider classmates - sit next to quieter, softer spoken children.
Offer 'breaks' from the busy classroom environment: take reading outside; send them on an errand for a few minutes.
Allow them to wear noise cancelling headphones when completing work that require no additional instructions; during music/concert practice; or when you go on a field trip.
Repeat instructions to insure that they have been heard and understood.
It is always important to consult with an Occupational Therapist to support your child with auditory sensitivity. If you would like an online consultation for advice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any questions or comments are most welcome!