The Auditory Sensory System and Activities You Can Do at Home
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Simply put, a recap; Sensory Integration or Sensory Processing is the neurological process that organizes sensory information received from one’s own body and the environment making it possible to interact and respond effectively. Sensory Processing is the relationship between the brain and behavior.
There are 9 sensory systems:
Our focus for these activities will be the Auditory Sensory System
Simply Put, the auditory sensory system is the sense of hearing. This is a complex system starting with the ear receiving sound and passing the information through the nervous system to the brain. The Vestibular system (mentioned in our previous post) also contributes to the Auditory system. This includes our sense of balance, gravity, motion, and spatial awareness. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on the sense of hearing.
The ear gathers sound which is transferred into electrical signals. This includes rhythm, intensity, frequency, pitch, decoding, and prioritizing of sounds. All of this allows us to understand and distinguish different types of sound, such as differentiating between noise, speech, music, etc. allowing the body to prepare an appropriate response. Disorders in this system may cause difficulty understanding sounds, distinguishing sounds, and interpreting meaning of sounds, even if the child’s hearing tests are normal. A child can have great difficulty taking in verbal information correctly and remembering what they hear.
As experienced within all Sensory Systems, children who have difficulty processing auditory information can exhibit hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity. They may display several of the following characteristics:
A child with hyposensitivity can appear like they are not paying attention or not hearing what is being said. They may not respond to what you say or get distracted easily from conversations. Some behaviors displaying hyposensitivity may include;
Appear like they are ignoring you
Humming to themselves or making other noises
Seem unalert to the task at hand
Difficulty remembering information
Difficulty following verbal instructions
Seeks out loud environments
Seeks out loud music
Craves environmental noises
Delayed response time
Does not generate an appropriate motor response to sound stimulation, for example: has difficulty playing Simon Says
Difficulty registering important environmental cues such as an alarm clock, phone ringing, etc.
A lot of self talk to stay on task or work through a task
A child with hypersensitivity may seem anxious, get upset easily, or refuse to engage in social activities. These children have a great deal of difficulty filtering out background noise and therefore are extremely distracted. Some behaviors you may observe are as follows.
Anxious reaction to environmental loud sounds such as vacuum, fire drill, etc.
Easily distracted by all noises in the child's environment
Difficulty attending to important information and filtering out background noises
Difficulty concentrating and following verbal directions
Poor social skills
Avoids crowded places or noisy play
Difficulty in noisy environments such as a cafeteria, gym class, assemblies, etc.
Overreacts, screams at others
Even in play there are things we can do to help a child with auditory problems. Consider some of these suggestions:
Using ear plugs or sound reducing headphones when engaging in group activities or noisy environments
Give instructions with eye contact and always approach a child from the front
Calm a child with fun calming proprioceptive/vestibular activities prior to instruction
Give the child visual cues as much as possible
Make sure you have the child's attention before engaging in activity
Allow the child time to move into a calming state
Keep noise level down and eliminate unnecessary noises when possible such as the dishwasher when in the kitchen, turn off the TV when not watching, etc.
Speak slowly and clearly
Allow the child to operate the noise producers involved in an activity, such as the blender or mixer when baking, timer or dice in board games, etc.
Activity Suggestions for Home:
Play Simon Says, make sure you have the child's attention and speak more slowly. You can even introduce visual cuing for "Simon Says"
Play charades to help improve attention skills, and if a child is having difficulty calling out their guesses, then have all players write their guesses on a white board
Use ear plugs when playing outside games such as basketball, soccer, or relay races if your child has significant adversity to noise
Provide verbal instruction alongside written instructions when baking recipes, have child reach each step if able
Try swinging, rocking, jumping, etc. before any group activity
Play whisper down the lane, speak very slowly
Perform clapping patterns
Instead of playing "what do you see" games, play " what do you hear" games. See if your child can distinguish and separate out sounds.
Play "repeat after me" games
Make up games where each person adds on one object to the story, such as " I went to the beach and I bough the bucket." (Next person says) "I went to the beach and I bought the bucket and the shovel." Continue as long as the players can remember the sequence.
Put on a play and memorize lines
Freeze dancing to music when it stops
Play Mother May I
Play Red Light Green Light
Play Marco Polo in water
Play Baby in the Air
And many more!
**Remember, if your child exhibits negative or defensive behaviors, try to analyze the activity and environment and make changes that help your child engage in the activity.
We highly suggest seeking the advice of a Sensory Occupational Therapist and Speech Therapist about auditory desensitization and auditory processing.