How to Support Auditory Discrimination Disorder

Auditory discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to detect, interpret, or respond to everyday sounds. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Auditory Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Speak too loudly or too softly.
  • Appear unresponsive or confused when given verbal directions.
  • Take longer than usual to process and respond to verbal directions.
  • Be unable to distinguish between background and foreground noises.
  • Have difficulty distinguishing between similar sounding words (cat, rat, sat).

How to Support Auditory Discrimination Disorder:

  • Stand directly in front of your child when giving verbal directions or asking a question. Give him/her extra time to process and respond to what you’ve said.
  • Break complicated instructions down into small, simple steps and allow your child to complete each step each before moving on to the next.
  • Teach your child to use visual cues, such as stop signs, flashing lights, or children lining up at the door for a fire drill to stay safe and know what to do next.
  • Work with your child’s teachers on ways to reinforce and revisit key concepts. Consider incorporating presentations, audio recordings, and typed notes/outlines.
  • Play games to practice telling the difference between similar sounding words. (“Ball and fall—are these the same or different? Now you choose two words and try to trick me.”)

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

How to Support Auditory Avoiders

Auditory avoiders are hyperaware of sounds in their environment and tend to become overwhelmed or distracted by common, everyday noises. Avoiders often have extreme or upsetting reactions to even very mild stimulation. As a result, they can appear withdrawn or defensive and have trouble fitting in with their peers. They also frequently experience symptoms associated with anxiety disorders and engage in repetitive self-soothing behaviors. 

See below for some ways to identify and support auditory avoiders .

Auditory Avoiders May:

  • Seek out quiet or secluded environments.
  • Frequently cover their ears and react to loud or high-pitched noises as if in pain.
  • Become easily distracted by background noises others can’t detect.
  • Be bothered or extremely irritated by repetitive or specific sounds.
  • Be startled and extremely frightened by unexpected sounds.
  • Become overwhelmed and frustrated while working in loud, busy environments.
  • Engage in repetitive, self-soothing activities, such as rocking or chewing.

How to Support Your Auditory Avoider:

  • Use earplugs or headphones when needed.
  • Schedule frequent breaks and quiet times throughout the day.
  • Give advance warning of loud and unexpected sounds whenever possible.
  • Use a visual timer to indicate when unpleasant noises will end.
  • Speak clearly and stand directly in front of your child when giving directions.
  • Use a fan, white noise, or soft music to muffle background noise at bedtime.
  • Be conscious of noisy household items, such as vacuums, dryers, or buzzing lights. 
  • Create a quiet, safe space at home and include noise canceling and comforting items.
  • Work on calming strategies and develop a plan for how to exit overwhelming situations.

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

How to Support Auditory Seekers

Auditory seekers are desensitized to sounds in their environment and crave sensory stimulation via loud or repetitive noises. Seekers may seem to need constant stimulation. However, they tend to become more deregulated as they take in more input. Many seekers experience symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such low impulse control, inability to focus, and behavioral problems.

See below for some ways to identify and support auditory seekers.

Auditory Seekers May:

  • Seek out loud or busy environments.
  • Seem to always be yelling or speaking too loudly.
  • Make repetitive sounds, such as clapping, tapping, or clicking.
  • Have difficulty focusing on a task without humming or making noise.
  • Prefer to have constant background noise, such as music, TV, or a fan.
  • Insist on listening to TV or music at a volume that is uncomfortable to others.

How to Support Your Auditory Seeker:

  • Encourage playing with instruments and other noise-making toys.
  • Sleep with a fan, quiet music, or white noise machine.
  • Play TV, music, and games at an increased—but safe—volume.
  • Allow listening to headphones while studying or during dull/repetitive activities.
  • Schedule time throughout the day to sing, clap, or listen to music. This can be especially helpful when transitioning from one activity to another.

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

Sensory Spotlight: Auditory (Sound)

This is the second installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

The auditory system is responsible for the body’s sense of hearing. It allows us to detect and locate sounds in our environment, to identify them, and to determine which sounds are important and which can be tuned out. Children with auditory processing issues may crave loud or repetitive noises, become overwhelmed or distracted by everyday sounds, or be unable to detect sounds in their environment. You can read more about how the auditory system works on the STAR Institute’s website.

See below for a quick guide on identifying auditory seeking, avoiding, and discrimination issues in children.

Auditory Seekers May:

  • Seek out loud or busy environments.
  • Seem to always be yelling or speaking too loudly.
  • Make repetitive sounds, such as clapping, tapping, or clicking.
  • Have difficulty focusing on a task without humming or making noise.
  • Prefer to have constant background noise, such as music, TV, or a fan.
  • Insist on listening to TV or music at a volume that is uncomfortable to others.

Auditory Avoiders May:

  • Seek out quiet or secluded environments.
  • Frequently cover their ears and react to loud or high-pitched noises as if in pain.
  • Become easily distracted by background noises others can’t detect.
  • Be bothered or extremely irritated by repetitive or specific sounds.
  • Be startled and extremely frightened by unexpected sounds.
  • Become overwhelmed and frustrated while working in loud, busy environments.
  • Engage in repetitive, self-soothing activities, such as rocking or chewing.

Those with Auditory Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Speak too loudly or too softly.
  • Appear unresponsive or confused when given verbal directions.
  • Take longer than usual to process and respond to verbal directions.
  • Be unable to distinguish between background and foreground noises.
  • Have difficulty distinguishing between similar sounding words (cat, rat, sat).

Sensory Spotlight: What Is SPD?

This is the first installment of our nine-part Sensory Spotlight series.

Sensory processing occurs when the brain receives and organizes information from external sources, such as light or sound, and internal bodily cues, such as hunger or balance. Individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) do not respond to this everyday sensory information the same way most people do. They may feel bombarded or assaulted by even the smallest bit of stimulation, or they might be unable to recognize even very extreme sensations or changes in their environment. Studies suggest as many as 1 in 20 people have sensory processing issues, and symptoms are typically much more pronounced in children.

Children with SPD often have a hard time fitting in with their peer group. They might show signs of anxiety or depression, be withdrawn, struggle socially and academically, or appear clumsy. Many children have learned to cope with their symptoms in ways that might appear odd to others, such as rocking, constantly learning on walls or furniture, sucking on their thumbs or other objects, etc.

SPD is generally broken down into the three patterns and thirteen subtypes listed below. Keep in mind the exact symptoms will vary greatly from one individual to the next. Many people with SPD demonstrate a combination of sensitivities and seeking/avoiding behaviors, depending on their level of arousal and how familiar they are with their current environment.

Pattern 1: Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD)

Sensory Over-Responsivity (Hypersensitivity) – Over-responsive individuals, or avoiders, are hyperaware of sensory input and may have extreme or upsetting reactions to even mild stimulation, such as crying out in pain while brushing their hair or gagging at very faint smells. Avoiders often feel overloaded and overwhelmed by everyday situations and may appear anxious, withdrawn, or defensive as a result.

Sensory Under-Responsivity (Hyposensitivity) – Those who are under-responsive have difficulties detecting and/or responding to sensory input in a timely manner. They might not notice that the lighting or temperature in the room has changed, for example, or that they’ve bumped into something and injured themselves. As a result, under-responsive individuals often appear distracted, dismissive, or clumsy.

Sensory Craving – Sensory cravers, or seekers, have a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for sensory stimulation, though they tend to become more keyed up and deregulated as they take in more input. Seekers usually demonstrate behaviors associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), such low impulse control and constant moving, fidgeting, bumping into things, or fiddling with objects.

Pattern 2: Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD)

Postural Disorder – Postural disorder affects the body’s ability to stabilize itself and maintain a sense of balance. Individuals with this subtype often have problems slouching or bad posture. They might also appear to be weak, move awkwardly, or have extremely low endurance.

Dyspraxia (Motor Planning Problems) – Those with dyspraxia have difficulty planning and performing new, nonhabitual gross and fine motor tasks. They might appear to have extremely poor hand-eye coordination, problems with concentration, and take much longer than their peers to learn a new skill.

Pattern 3: Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD)

Individuals with this pattern have difficulty recognizing and interpreting sensory information. They’re often unable to gauge the physical differences between objects, such as size, color, shape, or distance. They might be unaware of the pressure or force they’re exerting at a given moment and appear awkward, clumsy, and prone to spilling drinks or breaking toys.

SDD is further broken down into eight subtypes, one for each sensory system:

  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Tactile
  • Vestibular
  • Olfactory
  • Gustatory
  • Proprioception
  • Interoception

We’ll be taking a deeper dive into each of these systems, including strategies for supporting children with SPD, as our Sensory Spotlight series continues. Stay tuned!

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