The ability to pay attention can be a struggle for everyone.
Adults, of course, most commonly notice this habit in children. Parents often have to ask their children repeatedly to get dressed, finish their meals, do their homework, or get into the car.
Teachers likely encounter the issue of inattention even more than anyone else. A room of 20 or more youngsters presents numerous opportunities for distraction and inattention.
Children struggle to listen and pay attention to the teacher’s lessons for a number of reasons. Perhaps they become distracted by other kids whispering to each other. (Or they participate themselves in such behavior!) Plus, background noises fill the room. Papers rustle, chairs and desks shift, and other students ask questions. Sounds from the hallway carry in and computer motors hum away.
All of this extra sound and sensory input can disrupt anyone’s concentration. Some children can handle these distractions without a problem. Others become so overwhelmed by the extra noises that they can barely focus on the work at hand.
Underlying Causes for Inattention
Rather than blame a child for their problems with attention and focus, it is better to investigate underlying causes.
Auditory researchers, including Nina Kraus and Peter Schneider, have begun to study the ways in which brain structure affects listening ability. They are able to record the brain’s responses to sound in a reliable, measurable manner.
Amazingly, they can literally see what happens in the brain when a child (or adult) is not able to effectively hold their attention on the auditory input around them. After all, noise is not just about hearing the sound. It’s also about the ability to actually pay attention to it and let the brain process an appropriate response to that sound. This is what real listening entails.
As Nina Kraus has stated, “Hearing is an integrated process that involves how the nervous system represents sound and also how we use it, i.e., cognitive function. There is an interplay between how we remember sound, how we pay attention to it, and how the nervous system encodes the fundamental ingredients of sound.”
The relationship of immature listening abilities to corresponding attention problems is easy to overlook. After all, it’s something that’s more complicated to identify or diagnose.
What exactly is immature listening?
When a child or adult can’t pay attention effectively, sometimes their brain structure and development is considered to be “immature.” By this, researchers mean that the brain structure and neural networks for auditory processing have not yet reached the “typical” level of development.
Researchers have been able to create a connection between auditory processing struggles and the ability to pay attention. When the brain lacks a typical ability to employ the microsecond processing needed to accurately process sound, it is harder for someone to pay attention.
If a child cannot quickly and effectively process the words that they hear, it is easy to understand why they will struggle to pay attention. The neurons in their brains are not reacting quickly enough to elicit a full response. The neural networks in their brains are not putting the pieces together completely, so to speak.
Fortunately, both Nina Kraus and Peter Schneider have found that listening training—specifically, musical training—are able to help children (and adults) learn to listen with true attention.
Nina Kraus has also used another auditory training method that works in the same way. In this method, teachers wore microphones that directly connected to small earphones their students with learning disabilities were wearing. This helped the children to learn to focus on what actually mattered during class. Even after they stopped wearing their earphones, the benefits remained.
Amazingly, the neural networks and electric responses in the brain can be rewired and stimulated to grow to maturity!
If you or your child struggles with attention deficit disorders, please reach out to our office. We are highly skilled in auditory training and would be happy to speak with you.