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Auditory System

The Auditory system is what allows us to hear noises, register vestibular information, process tone and frequency of noises. It is one of the few systems that is a skill we are born with. It is not something that we teach. For example, we teach our children what soft touch vs hard touch is (tactile) and what objects are (sight) but children are born with the ability to hear and when something is loud they startle.

Sound travels into the inner ear; where the two important mechanisms are: the cochlea, which translates and interprets every sound we hear and the vestibule, which helps move the sound along to the brain to integrate the sensations we receive and help process motor responses to the sound. The inner ear and the sense of hearing also contributes to our vestibular system, helping us with movement and balance.

Children often have a hard time integrating their auditory system due the unexpectedness and frequency of sound. It is very hard for children to control the amount of auditory information they receive throughout the day; therefore, their threshold is often overwhelmed. For example, children can’t control how many times a teacher says their name, how many times a friend yells or cries in the classroom and/or how loud the music or sound machine is at nap time. They often don’t have the words or ability to describe that the auditory input in their environment is dysregulating.

Therefore, how can we tell that a child’s auditory system is overstimulated?

These children react quickly and negatively to loud sounds. They may cover their ears, scream, or yell. These children are easily distracted by noises in their environment.

For children who over respond to auditory input, be sure to prepare them whenever you know of a loud or unexpected event that is upcoming, such as a fire drill or assembly. You can try noise canceling headphones to help them manage the sound. Consider the noise level of your classroom and how that may impact students.

How can we tell that a child is under-responsive to auditory input?

They tend to seem unaware of sounds that others are aware of. They don’t consistently respond to names (rule out hearing loss), say ‘what’ a lot, have difficulty locating sound, and may need directions repeated frequently.

For children who under respond to auditory input, think of ways to compensate for what they may miss. Try pairing auditory input with visual information when it comes to classroom routines and activities.

How can we tell that a child seeks auditory input?

These students love loud noisy environments. They make their own silly sounds, enjoy the sounds of others, and may turn up the volume on the music or TV. They may also constantly use an ‘outside voice’ no matter the environment.

For children who seek auditory information, try thinking of ways to incorporate that input into their routines. You can try having the child listen to music, books on tape, using a noise machine or musical instruments.

Children who struggle with auditory processing can have difficulty with speech and language skills as well. Because the auditory and vestibular systems are so closely related, sometimes incorporating movement activities or using a swing with your students can help progress their speech and language skills.

There are several other things that the Auditory System can affect:

Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex:

  • When you move your head in different directions, your eyes are able to make compensatory movements in the opposite direction of the head to promote stable vision. Without this reflex, everything you see would move with your head, as if you were watching a video from a handheld camera.

Auditory System Affects Vestibular (semicircular canals):

  • Work together to process sensations of movement and sound

  • These systems affect each other because they both have receptors in the ear

  • Vestibular organ is located on each side of the head sharing fluid with the cochlea (organ of hearing)

  • 3 semicircular canals and otolith organs in the inner ear are responsible for balance, known as the vestibular system. This affects our ability to maintain balance, posture, and body’s orientation in space.

Auditory Processing

  • A child who has difficulties with auditory processing may have a hard time tuning out noises we naturally tune out or ignore such as someone tapping their fingers on a table or a clock ticking. Often a child may not hear you call their name or have a hard time following verbal directions. It may seem like they are ignoring you or just not listening when in reality, they are unable to filter an important noise from ones that are not as important. Other times, these everyday noises can be overstimulating for our kids. This may lead to fear and avoidance of certain environments or situations where they have previously experienced loud noises such as automatic flushing toilets or loud classrooms.

Common Red Flags:

  1. Difficultly controlling voice level (talks very loud when just talking to one person in a quiet place)

  2. Often covers ears to a variety of sounds in a variety of settings

  3. Has a very big reaction to loud or unexpected noises

  4. Gets easily distracted by noises or notices noises that others don’t notice easily

Recommendations for the auditory system:

  • Ability to listen to predictable sounds and/or calming sounds

  • Talking about how a sound makes them feel and possible coping strategies.

  • Helps to wake children more naturally, sleep with calming noises and predict sleep patterns and expected behaviors.

  • Ear plugs can be more comfortable and less noticeable than large headphone versions.

  • Screen-Free Auditory Activity


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