Does Your Child Struggle with This Overlooked Reading Challenge?

Picture book Adele and Simon shows the Notre Dame spire still intact

Watching the fire at Notre Dame was, for this former English and Humanities major, one of the most devastating sights I’ve seen in a long time.

My boys weren’t sure what building I was talking about until I pulled out Adele and Simon. “You guys, you do know this building.”

Then I cried.

The idea of the Parisian firefighters, working to the utmost, but without good success because they lacked equipment that could spray high enough — horrible.

It is awful to be in a position of complete willingness, even desperation, but not have the necessary tools to effect change.

Now I get that my son struggling to learn to read is on a different scale than the firefighters struggling to save an 859 year old cathedral.

But we are all human, and I expect that grief and frustration, even in the midst of focused hard work, look fairly similar for all of us.

One of the tools I was missing with my son was the definition of auditory processing.

It’s interesting — because learning to read is a visual exercise, it’s hard to imagine how the ears and hearing might make a difference.

But of the students who come to Dr. Karen Holinga for remedial reading assistance, twenty percent of them are dealing with auditory processing difficulties.

So it’s not the majority of struggling students — but one in five is still a lot of children.

What Do Auditory Processing Delays Look Like?

Children who struggle with auditory processing exhibit a few specific symptoms.

1) Poor phonemic awareness. A single sound is called a phoneme (FOE neem), and children who can’t hear the difference between sounds have “poor phonemic awareness.” This means they cannot easily separate or distinguish individual sounds, and have an especially hard time distinguishing between short vowel sounds, such as bet and bit.

Children with poor phonemic awareness will probably not be able to determine which of these pairs of words rhyme:

sock — sell

rim — slim

sink — drink

tap — shirt

The titular poem in Chris Harris’s poetry book I’m Just No Good at Rhyming begins,

I’m just no good at rhyming.

It makes me feel so bad.

I’m just no good at rhyming.

And that’s why I’m so blue.

The speaker goes on, mis-rhyming words, though later in the poem another stanza ends lines with both the word true and the word sad, demonstrating that the author clearly could have rhymed, if he had wanted to. So clever!

When I read this stanza, I paused before the final word. I wanted to see if my son would say the rhyming word sad.

He couldn’t.

In fact, my son couldn’t hear the wrong rhymes, and couldn’t guess the right rhymes. He finally picked out a rhyme at age ten.

He had poor phonemic awareness.

2) Difficulty with word retrieval. My son would know what he wanted to say, but his brain couldn’t access the specific words. For example, he might say, “Hey, Mom, remember the book about the person who went on a trip?”

And based on the context of whatever we had recently been talking about, I could usually guess, “Do you mean the book about Chris taking the logs down the Mississippi in Swift Rivers?”

Which is okay in the same confines of the home. But if my son had tried to talk to someone without so many shared life experiences, this inability to remember specific nouns could become quite a problem.

And, obviously, communication becomes strained. If “Hey, Mom, do you remember when we went to that place and rode on that thing?” could equally apply to the time when our family went to the amusement park and rode the tram, or to the airport and rode on the moving sidewalk, or to the lake and rode on the paddle board, which sentence is my son trying to communicate?

When children have difficulty with word retrieval, the specifics of language are missing, those clarifying and important words that differentiate experience.

3) Unclear or delayed speech.

4) Delayed auditory processing. These children’s brains overload really easily, because they can’t process language quickly. In fact, some children may process information 80% more slowly.

Think about trying to do anything if your brain had slowed down 80%. How much less would you comprehend?

4) Poor auditory memory. Children with poor auditory processing don’t remember what they hear, so they miss a lot. If a parent says, “Go to your room, get your shoes, and meet me at the door,” the children will show up at the door, but without their shoes.

This isn’t because they’re deliberately disobeying. They simply cannot remember.

5) Difficulty with hearing the number of syllables in a word. You may have heard the trick of clapping syllables, a clap for each syllable. So one clap for cat, two claps for tiger, three claps for beautiful, four claps for hyperactive. (Some families rest a hand on the chin, to see how many times the chin drops — one drop per syllable.)

My son would guess: “Does computer have one syllable? Does cake have two?” It was astonishing to see all the ways he would contort his speech to make the syllable claps or the jaw drops fit the word.

If you speak really quickly, you really can say computer in the time it takes to clap once. You can say syllable and only drop your chin once.

Auditory processing was definitely part of my son’s difficulties.

But I didn’t have the proper information to create change.




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Amy Lykosh

Amy Lykosh

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