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Why Can't My Child Just Listen?

by Linda E. Balsiger, M.S., CCC-SLP
director of in Bend, Oregon

Do you ever feel like you're repeating yourself until you're blue in the face? Does your child appear to be listening, but not follow through correctly? Does your child actually have a listening disorder, or are they just not paying attention? While it is normal for kids to have occasional listening problems, particularly in times of distraction or stress, when those problems begin to interfere with following directions at school or learning through verbal instruction, it is time to consider whether there is a more serious problem. The following are some of the disorders that may underlie listening problems.

Attention is a common culprit when a child doesn't appear to be listening. This may be due to distraction (internal or external), or a longer transition time needed to switch attention when someone begins speaking. Some children have attention weaknesses, while others have attention deficits that reach the level of a clinical disorder (ADD/ADHD). Other symptoms of an attention disorder include: difficulty focusing, a high level of distractibility, problems working independently, a need for frequent breaks, and a tendency to become easily overwhelmed. Children with attention disorders often learn better with 1:1 instruction than group instruction. An attention disorder can be diagnosed by a pediatrician or psychologist. Even if parents elect not to pursue medication, a diagnosis can help their child to get the additional supports and accommodations they need to succeed at school. ems to not listening. However in higher grades, students encounter more advanced vocabulary words, longer sentences, and more complex syntactical structures. These problems can also affect reading comprehension, since written material typically contains more complex syntax than spoken language. Diagnosis and treatment of a receptive language disorder is performed by a speech-language pathologist.

Auditory Memory
Children with auditory memory deficiencies lack sufficient working memory to "hold" longer chunks of language in memory for processing. They tend to "lose" the first or last part of a sentence, and have difficulty remembering specific details in the sentence. Tests of auditory memory can be administered by a psychologist or speech-language pathologist. Treatment approaches for memory include direct strengthening of auditory memory, identification and isolation of critical elements in a sentence, visualization techniques, compensatory strategies, and communication repair skills. Teachers and parents can also learn to deliver spoken information in ways that maximize the listening capabilities of these students.

Sometimes it is easy for parents to think "Just pay attention!" It is important to recognize that some attention and listening problems are beyond a child's ability to compensate for, and professional help is needed. As children move into higher grades, listening and language comprehension skills become increasingly important for academic success. If your child is having listening or comprehension problems at school or at home, it may be time to try to find out what is underlying their difficulties.

Linda Balsiger, M.S., CCC-SLP is a learning specialist and certified speech-language pathologist. She is the owner of Bend Language & Learning, a private practice focused on language and learning disorders. See for more information.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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