Hello! This blog is about my daughter Hailey (currently 12 years old) and her experiences living with auditory processing disorder. Auditory Processing Disorder is Hailey's primary issue, however she has also been given the labels Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, Visual Processing Disorder, Mixed Expressive Receptive Language Disorder and Phonology Disorder at various points in her life.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It Shouldn't Be This Hard: How One Girl with APD Learned to Read

“If I didn’t have Auditory Processing Disorder, I bet I would be able to read college level books by now.  I wish I didn’t have Auditory Processing Disorder.  It makes things so hard.  It’s not supposed to be this hard.”  Tear paths slowly appear on her cheeks as she lets out a barely auditable sigh.

Reading has been a horrendously difficult hurdle for my daughter with Auditory Processing Disorder (ADP).  You see one aspect of APD is auditory discrimination problems.  Auditory discrimination is the ability to detect the distinct and separate sounds in words.  Teachers call this phonemic awareness, and preschoolers and kindergarteners play games to identify the first consonant sound in a word or to rhyme small, one syllable words.  This, sensibly, leads to the skills needed to learn phonics.  Phonics is the method of teaching people to read through the recognition of letter patterns and the sounds they represent.  It is the most prevalent method to teach reading as it is highly effective.  With the knowledge of phonics, a person can read just about anything without having to have seen a particular word written before.

So with my daughter Hailey’s very real problems with auditory discrimination, she could not identify onset consonants, rhymes, or even hear the differences in many letter sounds.  For instance, /p/,/b/, /d/, /t/ and /g/ all sound the same to her.  As well as /nk/ and /ng/,  / f/, /s/, /v/, /sh/and /th/,  /a/, /e/ and /o/.  So no matter how many games we played, and no matter how much her private speech therapist worked with her on phonemic awareness, she could never distinguish the letter sounds.

Having more in my arsenal of techniques for teaching reading by having been a first grade teacher for many years, I decided to try the sight word approach.  So Hailey and I started playing games with flashcards.  We acted out words; traced words; made words with playdough; wrote words in the air; played memory with the cards; made stories with the cards; and similar type activities.  This was loads of fun, but it didn’t transfer over into reading.  Sure she could memorize a few words, but it took months to memorize just a few words.  Learning to read like this would be completely impractical.  You see, Auditory Processing Disorder (ADP) has another aspect: short term/working memory problems.  So Hailey has to repeat something, particularly something to do with auditory input, over and again until it finally is locked comfortably into her long term memory and the path to retrieving it is well defined.

So my spouse and I took her to see a neuro-psychologist.  We wanted to know what she could determine to help us teach Hailey to read.  Well, sadly we paid this woman way too much money for her to tell us that Hailey would probably never learn to read and we should focus on “life skills” instead.  Of course, we didn’t listen to her, and I started researching all I could find on reading.

I came upon a program called The Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing® (LiPS®) Program.  This program teaches children to learn the specific feeling of their lips, teeth, mouth, and breath when making each particular letter sound.  They also learn to identify the sound by “reading” other people’s mouths when they make the sound.  It seemed like it might work.   However, the program done at the Lindamood Bell Centers was extremely costly, and we really couldn’t afford it.  Knowing we would find the money some way if we had to, I started to look into private reading specialists first.

After scouring the Internet, I found a few people in my area who operate as private reading specialists and/or tutors.  I interviewed three and found the one I wanted to try.  She had been a reading specialist for the schools and was now retired.  She had been trained in the LiPS program and would love to work with Hailey.  So off we went to start the process.  It was amazing!  This program was the magic pill that enabled Hailey to read.  She took to it immediately and voila!  Her problem with auditory discrimination was not going to hold her back from reading.

So now Hailey has been reading for about two years.  She can decode absolutely any word and she loves to work in phonics based multisyllabic word workbooks.  As a bonus, her spelling is actually quite good due to her strong phonics skills, and she spends a great deal of time writing.  Of course, she still has the short term/working memory issues associated with Auditory Processing Disorder, so she spends a large amount of time phonetically spelling words and/or looking them up in the dictionary. 

So why is Hailey still crying about reading?  Simply this: she reads multiple times every day and yet it is still difficult.  As she puts it, “I see the word people and I have to sound it out every single time.  It just doesn’t stick in my head like it should.  I have to read a word hundreds of times to remember it.  My brother, he reads a word once and he remembers it.  He reads less than half the amount of time I read and he can read bigger words and faster.  It’s not fair.  It shouldn’t be this hard!”  This, again, is that short term/working memory problem that is a part of APD.

A third problem with Auditory Processing Disorder is filtering out background noise.  Hailey hears all those little sounds that are around us all the time: the furnace kicking in, the dog licking her paw, someone in the next room talking, a neighbor mowing his lawn,etc.  She finds it incredibly difficult to have to concentrate on reading when all those other sounds keep bombarding her.  So I finally broke down and bought her noise reduction ear muffs.  I was worried about her getting dependent on them and I wanted her to strengthen her ability to filter out background noises.  However, she wanted to focus on reading and she felt this would make a big difference to her.  They do help and she is much happier with them.

Surprisingly with all the intense work that it takes to read, Hailey still thoroughly enjoys reading.  She loves fiction and she finds that she remembers better the non-fiction that she reads versus what she has heard.  She has perseverance greater than I have ever witnessed in anyone before or since.  She is determined to not let her Auditory Processing Disorder stop her from doing all that she wants to do – including one day reading college level books.  For this, I admire her. 

So she says if she didn’t have Auditory Processing Disorder, she would already be reading college level books.  I say if we all worked half as hard as she does, it’d be amazing the things we could accomplish.  


  1. Hi Bev,
    I've come upon your post and felt such sadness for Hailey. My son has APD and it makes getting through the school day exhausting. I can only begin to imagine how hard it is for both my son and Hailey on an every day basis. Fortunately We found a solution to his reading problems early on, but the day to day grind of learning in a noisy classroom stills tires him.
    I hope Hailey finds her way forward using her strengths and gifts and I have a feeling that the writing she shares in the future will add to people's lives immeasurably.

    1. Thanks Heidi. I really appreciate your kind thoughts. I hope your son has a better go in school this year and gets a nice quiet classroom. :)