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Auditory Stimuli in the Classroom

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I am a classically trained musician.  Countless hours of my life have been spent in practice labs, rehearsals, and performances.  My voice is my instrument.  Vocal exercises are my friend.  I have a passion for choral conducting and love the natural high it brings me.  Music is always in my head.  If I had a choice between a silent room or one filled with multiple instruments playing completely different tunes, I'd choose the room with multiple instruments.  If the choice were up to me, music would be playing around the clock in my home.  I would be singing along with it, starting my day with multiple vocal exercises.

However, that's not the case.  I have not performed since shortly after the birth of Bulldozer, almost 6 years ago.  My conducting days ended just about the same time.  Vocal exercises and even personal piano practice sessions have ceased in my home.  I had to tell Princess that Mommy used to be a singer recently, as I was singing "Let It Go" with her the other day. Her eyes had become wide as she listened to the operatic vibrato in my voice.  It may have been the first time she'd ever heard me really sing.

Why have things changed so much?  I live in a home full of people with hyper sensitivities to auditory stimuli.  Dinomite is the most sensitive to sounds.  In fact, auditory issues in the classroom were the number one reason he did not do well in a school environment outside of the home.  Loud noises scare Dinomite.  He needs complete silence to do his school work (which I admit is at times impossible to provide). Noises are also very distracting to Dinomite. When he becomes overwhelmed by auditory stimuli around him, he reacts in a very physical way, lashing out at others around him or curling up into a ball, kicking and screaming.  It breaks my heart.  Dinomite can not handle Mommy singing or playing the piano in the home.  We listen to classical music in small increments, with the volume very low, but that's about as much as he can handle.

Dinomite has significant struggles when placed in indoor environments with loud noises.  He wasn't able to function to be part of an indoor soccer league with other kiddos, because of the noises in the gym and the whistle being used.  It's taken a very long time for him to be able to watch a movie in a theater, and even now he puts his hands over his ears most of the time.  Instead of attending performances, shows, etc., we usually try to find DVDs to bring home to him to watch, so he can control the volume.  Otherwise the event is unsuccessful.

Bulldozer is also hypersensitive to sound.  When very little he used to scream and cry every time he heard the sound of an airplane in the sky. To this day he's petrified of public restrooms because of the sound of the flushing toilets and air dryers.  Bulldozer is also extremely distracted by sound.  When he was attending a special needs preschool, it was noted often, how he wasn't able to focus on or complete tasks because he was so distracted by every noise he heard outside the classroom, especially trucks going by.

Bulldozer appears to suffer from an auditory processing disorder.  I say "appears" because we can't prove it until he's older and can actually take the tests required to diagnose it.  However, his doctors are pretty certain it's there.  When speaking to Bulldozer, we've had to learn to use as few words as possible when relaying information or asking a question. We wait at least 10 seconds after asking a question, before asking him again or rephrasing the question.  It takes him that long to process the words we're saying.  Even then he may not process it correctly.  Bulldozer always does best with visuals or hand held manipulatives to help him understand material and instructions.  Without those visuals, he's unable to process information correctly.  Sound alone, is not enough, as he lacks so many skills in this area.  Listening to lectures and/or books being read aloud is extremely difficult for Bulldozer.

Despite these challenges, Bulldozer is actually my musical child.  He enjoys the sounds of classical music, and works best with continuous sound in the background.  I'll always remember the month we studied Bach.  We'd listen to his music as we did our morning work. Bulldozer never worked so well.  He enjoys playing his own melodies on the piano.  Out of all of my kiddos, he's the only one who can carry a tune.  Yet, because of the sensory processing issues, you'll rarely find him singing along with music being played, or others singing.  He can't process the words at the same speed as others, and is always behind.  This is very frustrating for him.  Bulldozer does best without musical accompaniment, singing solo.

Princess doesn't necessarily have hypersensitivities to sound, however, they tend to overwhelm her and trigger her anxieties.  I'm still trying to figure out Sunshine's auditory sensory needs.  When she was an infant, there were several concerns about her hearing due to Mild Cranial Facial Microsomia.  We started teaching her sign language because we were worried she wasn't hearing us correctly.  She would become extremely frustrated while attempting to communicate.  Sign language helped her a lot.  Fortunately, now she's doing fabulous with no hearing issues.

How can you meet the auditory needs of the child in your classroom?

1.  Volume-Does your child enjoy loud noises or need them in order to hear your correctly?  Would your child prefer you to speak with a loud voice?  Is your child extremely sensitive to noise and need you to speak softly?

2.  Distraction/Environment-Are there auditory factors distracting your child's learning process?  Can you eliminate the distractions, or would it be best if you change your learning environment, or time of learning, so that it doesn't coincide with auditory distractions?  Does your child need a quiet working environment?  Perhaps your child needs noise to help them stay focused?  Is your child able to hear correctly in their learning environment?

3.  Auditory Processing-Does your child respond quickly and accurately to directions and questions?  If not, does your child need extra time to process what you're saying?  Try counting to 10 in your head before repeating a question or expecting your child to respond.  Does this make a difference?  If not, is your child hearing correctly?  How does your child respond to lessons without visuals and manipulatives?  Can your child repeat what you're teaching them?  Are visuals and manipulatives needed to help your child process information?

4.  Anxiety/Behavior-Does your child become anxious or act out during overwhelming auditory experiences?  If so, how can you help them?  Are there PTSD triggers associated with specific sounds and noises?  Can you identify them and avoid them?

What resources are there for children who struggle with auditory stimuli in the classroom?

1.  Teach them to cover their ears.  This has been crucial for our boys, especially in public places.

2.  Use noise reducing headphones in places and situations where needed.

3.  Provide white noise for your child.  Fans work well, or you can try a white noise machine.

4.  Use music that does not distract, but helps a child focus in their learning environment.  If you have multiple students, give the child head phones with desired music playing, so they won't distract others.

5.  Avoid situations where children will become overstimulated.  Instead of performances and other events, introduce recorded versions.  If you're in a place where you can't do this (like church), go to a quiet room, where you can still hear what's being said, but it's not as loud, or provide ear plugs/noise reducing headphones for your child during these experiences.

6.  Provide visuals and manipulatives paired with instruction and questions.

7. Develop patience and tolerance for those who just may not be able to hear and/ or process information as quickly.

Remember, every child is different. What may work for one child, may do the opposite for the other.  Changing auditory stimuli to meet the needs of your child can literally transform the learning process and your child.

What resources have helped your child with auditory stimuli in the classroom?

For more information about sensory needs in the classroom, please check out my other posts:

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