Learning Differences: Language Processing Disorder

“For just thirty seconds, would you mind leaning back in the water and floating? I want to talk to you while your ears are filled with water.”

In just a short time, you may discover listening is difficult when particular sounds are not heard clearly; and perhaps you have missed the meaning of the sentence. Feeling frustrated? It may feel similar to being immersed in the culture of a European country where you only recognize a few key words. Further, imagine how difficult it would be to try to have a conversation or listen to a story! If I asked you to convey what you heard, would you feel comfortable responding, or need time to “process”? With this example, you now understand how someone with a language or learning processing disorder (LPD) feels.

Parents initially believe the problem is connected to audiology, since some children around the age of three become sensitive to sounds like a blender or mixer, sirens or unexpected crashes or bangs. In fact, the ear and its functions are intact and working properly. The problem stems from how the brain processes and interprets information.  Young children often have difficulty speaking clearly and pronouncing sounds correctly. For instance, the word “dat” may be used instead of “that,” or “free” replace the number “three.” But during the most important years of learning, a child will sometimes not be diagnosed until the age of six or seven. The good news is that children do respond well when early interventions are in place; however, this does not eliminate the need for testing and treatment of older children and teens. An audiologist will perform the necessary tests, combining listening at rapidly increasing speeds with levels of noise, to determine what a child needs to hear well. For every problem that exists for a child with LPD, there are ways to ease problems and frustrations at home and in the classroom.  

In Noisy or Crowded Environments

Noise and sound emanating from a variety of locations can distract a child and cause him or her to lose focus. Thus, parents might want to create a basic signal or word to ease a child through bustling environments. In a classroom, some children have difficulty separating background noise from spoken words. Imagine listening to a radio and having static interfere with a specific program. For a child with APD, it could be the sounds of water filtering into a fish tank or noise coming through an open window; therefore, children need to change the acoustics of a room by sitting in the front. Ear buds, too, will help a child to eliminate distracting sounds when working independently.

Participating and Understanding Conversations

Develop a signal to focus your child before giving “small chunks” of simple directions. These could be as simple as a smile and direct eye contact. Also, use words that identify the main point. For instance, instead of stating, “Go get ready for school,” say, “brush your teeth, get your backpack, and put on your coat.”   Repeating the same schedule day after day will help a child listen and remember several directions at once. In addition, a child will need to repeat the information to show he understands.


Retaining information is one of the challenges of learning to read. One modification would be to assign reading in small sections. Following along with the text and listening to an audio book could help a child connect hearing language with seeing the spelled text.

A few strategies are:

  • highlight main ideas;
  • convey thoughts into a tape recorder;
  • record main points on a dry-erase board.  


When writing, a child who has had difficulty mimicking sounds and exchanging key letters in words may run words together or drop suffix endings. Errors are not likely to be identified unless a child can restate what he hears. In lieu of a tape recorder or using graphic organizers, he or she might greatly benefit from having a trusted partner. (How do we learn unless our mistakes are discussed, and we take the time to correct them?)

Formulating Thoughts and Communicating

Similar to most students in reacting to each other, adults can create a wonderful relationship when a child with APD feels comfortable asking that statements or directions be repeated. And, it is perfectly normal for time to pass without a response. This is because the child needs time to process in order to fully understand.

The road is long when a child has difficulties hearing, processing, understanding, learning and communicating. It is hard to imagine how learning can take place if our ears are full of water. How isolating it could be; yet, when early intervention takes place, a child can blossom and make the day’s struggles into a pathway toward independence.

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