Auditory Discrimination

Although loud, high, or low noises are a challenge for kids with sensory integration disorder, it's probably not something they have to deal with on a constant basis. Picking the important sounds out of a field of noise, however, is likely to be a problem that plagues them every day, throughout the day.

And unlike reactions caused by bothersome noises, problems with auditory discrimination aren't traumatic and noticeable. While you can't ignore your child's screaming fit over a car alarm, you might easily ignore his inability to distinguish your voice above the din and accuse him of simply not listening.

Lost in the Shuffle

Far from not listening, a child with sensory integration disorder may be listening too much, or to too much. While most children can tune out extra noise, if your child is overly sensitive to information coming in through his auditory system, he may hear everything that's going on with equal volume and urgency.

Speak to him in a room that already has a television going, a video game playing, a stereo blasting, another conversation or two on the side, and your voice may well get lost in the aural onslaught. Or your child may be so overwhelmed by the sound that he shuts down and refuses to deal with any auditory input at all. Either way, you're going to have to use something other than just verbal direction to get your child's attention and compliance.

How you get your child's attention will depend in part on what his other sensory integration issues are. Sometimes, tapping your child on the shoulder or back will let him know it's time to listen, but not if tactile sensitivity makes that seem a threat. And insisting on eye contact isn't an option if your visually sensitive child is bothered by it.

Auditory discrimination will also be a problem if your child is undersensitive to auditory information. She may not get enough details from her hearing sense to make out what is going on around her, or she may be too distracted by more urgent information coming in from other senses to care much about it.

Deciphering language in an accurate way takes a great deal of auditory finesse, and if your child can't easily distinguish between the sound of different phonemes, following anything more than clear and simple commands may seem more trouble than it's worth, especially if there are other things going on that are easier to figure out.

Something Worth Listening To

If your child just experiences your voice as one of a competing jumble of noise, or a rumble amid the static of poorly processed sound, you're going to have to make an effort to rise above the rest. Try to get your child's attention before you speak — no yelling across a noisy room for this kid.

Turn other sounds down if you can, put yourself in your child's field of vision if possible, touch your child or take him by the shoulders if tactile sensitivities don't make that a whole new problem, or devise a hand signal or other visual clue that tells your child it's time to listen. For the child with tactile sensitivity, firm pressure with an approach from the front rather than from the back, where the child can't see you, is often more acceptable.

Be sure to let your child's teacher know that your child will listen best in a room that doesn't have a lot of other auditory input going on. If a certain amount of other noise is unavoidable in the classroom, your child may benefit from having an aide who can keep her focused. You might also request that your child receive written versions of all information that is given orally in class. Most of all, the people who work with your child need to know that she is not ignoring them on purpose.

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