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Auditory processing challenges are one of the most invisible learning challenges out there, so it is difficult to understand what students with APD are faced with every day.
In this episode, Adalyn Smith - a college student with APD - is back on the show to talk about what it's like to have an auditory processing disorder, and how big of an impact auditory training made on her life both in and out of school.
You'll hear Adalyn's first-hand account of what auditory training was like for her and how it has helped her move from a world of exhaustion to giving her a boost in confidence and self-esteem.
Adalyn's message to parents who see their children struggling in school? Identify the problem and know that things can change!
In this week's episode, you'll learn:
- A first-hand account of what it's like to have APD
- What auditory training is and how it works
- How auditory training can eliminate excessive exhaustion, boost confidence and self-esteem, increase academic performance, and enhance social skills
"APD is a very hidden disability... But things can actually change. I'm not dumb or stupid or slow. I just work differently, and that's fine."
- Auditory Processing Disorder information page
- Adalyn Smith on Instagram: @advocate4apd
- LD Expert Live episode with Adalyn Smith - Part 1
- Advanced Brain Technology and The Listening Program
- Take the Stone Out of the Shoe - Chapter 5: What Do Challenges With Processing Skills Look Like?
- At Wit's End - Chapter 10: Auditory Processing
LD Expert Podcast - Episode #58
How Auditory Training Changed My Life - Adalyn Smith
Jill Stowell: My students have always been my best teachers. I love brain science and I love seeing grades go up. But the thing I get the most excited about is something that doesn’t always show up in test scores: the real-life changes that make a student or a family’s life better.
Welcome to the LD Expert Podcast, your place for answers and solutions for dyslexia and learning differences.
Jill Stowell: What we do at Stowell Learning Centers is vastly different than tutoring or special help at school. But if you’re not entrenched in it every day, it’s hard to get a picture of what it looks like.
Today, we’re talking to one of our former students about her journey with auditory training and how that changed her life.
I’m your host Jill Stowell, Founder and Executive Director of Stowell Learning Centers and author of Take the Stone Out of the Shoe: A Must-Have Guide to Understanding, Supporting and Correcting Dyslexia, Learning and Attention Challenges.
I’m so excited to welcome Adalyn Smith back to the LD Expert Podcast. I met Adalyn when she was in high school and reached out to me to be a guest on her IGTV channel.
We had a fantastic conversation about auditory processing disorder and I was so impressed with her. So in May 2021, Adalyn was my guest on the LD Expert Live broadcast where we talked about what it’s like to live with an auditory processing disorder.
At that time, Adalyn didn’t know that there were things that you could do to improve auditory processing. But since then, she has gone through a program of auditory stimulation and training at Stowell Learning Center and I always said I was going to have her back to talk about it. So here we are.
Adalyn is now a college freshman who continues to actively share information and support for teens and others with auditory processing disorder, or APD. Welcome Adalyn.
Adalyn Smith: Thank you so much. It’s amazing to be here. I’m honored to be here and I love talking about all things auditory with the Stowell Center. So I’m happy to be here. Thank you guys.
Jill Stowell: Well, I love having you be a part of this conversation because you give us a perspective that only someone who has actually lived with APD can share. So thank you for being so open and transparent and just for having a heart to help other people who are dealing with this as well.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah. Well, thank you for having me. Sometimes it’s hard to be transparent and very vulnerable but that’s the only way that you learn and that’s the only way that parents can get help sometimes. So I do what I can. So we try.
Jill Stowell: Fantastic. So I want to talk a little bit about what it was like for you before doing auditory training just so that we can really get some good perspective here. So you went through most of your schooling dealing with APD. What was that like for you?
Adalyn Smith: There was a lot of emotions that come with that. I think the first one there is just constant exhaustion. Actually a few days ago, I was writing up a post and it was about exhaustion because that’s the first word that comes to mind. Exhaustion comes from anxiety and lip reading and constantly trying to follow in any conversation whether it’s with a teacher or a professor or in any group setting.
It's very, very difficult. I remember countless times when I just stopped trying and I just stopped listening because I didn’t care anymore because if I – the harder I tried, the worse it got and I just didn’t understand. So I stopped trying and I stopped caring because of the exhaustion, because of the anxiety because I never knew it was going to happen.
That’s what I mostly remember about high school. But then I did the training and it was so much better.
Jill Stowell: And I really want to talk about that but what you said is so important. A lot of times when students are struggling for whatever reason, it looks like they don’t care or they’re not trying and just everybody listening, if you can kind of put yourself in a situation that you’ve been in before where you just simply don’t get it and so eventually you’re just trying and trying and trying and you don’t get it and eventually you give up and you’re like, “I’m not doing this. I don’t care anymore,” which might not actually be true. But you probably do care.
But the thing is, it’s very hard to see an auditory processing problem. It’s very hard to see that someone is struggling to get the information clearly and completely or to see how hard you’re having to concentrate and focus and how much mental energy goes into that.
So truly when you – it is exhausting and eventually the brain just cannot continue to pay attention to something that doesn’t make any sense.
Adalyn Smith: It’s a very hidden disability, trial, whatever you want to call it. But it’s a feeling of being very antisocial but also of – like it’s kind of a weird out-of-body experience because you’re trying so hard to be in the moment. But at the exact same time it’s like if I just zone out, I zone out and it’s fine because I’m not going to get it anyways. So what’s the point?
Jill Stowell: And it’s a little bit of a relief. I mean we have our brain – you know, eventually we need little mental breaks.
Adalyn Smith: Yes.
Jill Stowell: So that zoning out is natural for us when we’re overloaded.
Adalyn Smith: Right.
Jill Stowell: Yeah, and that’s interesting that you said it’s kind of like being antisocial because I see you as quite a social person. I mean it’s really fun to engage with you. But when you’re lost in conversation …
Adalyn Smith: It’s totally different. Like friends and family know me as this fun, extroverted girl but when I have too much auditory input, I am so introverted and I get so quiet and I just don’t talk to anybody because I’m exhausted.
Jill Stowell: Yeah, yeah.
Adalyn Smith: That has happened.
Jill Stowell: Wow.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: So going through school, did you feel like APD impacted your self-esteem and your confidence?
Adalyn Smith: Definitely. There was a time in my life. I think it was junior year. It was right when COVID hit. Well, actually a little bit after when COVID hit and I started comparing myself to everyone because they could do so much.
They could do piano lessons and soccer and have lots of family things and lots of friend things going on, but I can only handle one or two events in a day. I thought that was bad and that was dumb and I should feel dumb and slow and stupid because of that, because I couldn’t keep up. But in reality that’s not how it is. It just is the way that you work and that’s fine.
Jill Stowell: Right. And it takes so much more mental energy to really stick with it in class or in conversation and that really – we’re talking about APD but actually parents listening, teachers listening, that actually applies to dyslexia and ADHD and all kinds of other things where the brain is processing information differently and so it takes more mental energy and then you’re exhausted and it’s just hard to do many, many things when you’re out of gas.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah, exactly. That’s a great way to put it. Yeah, yeah.
Jill Stowell: And I remember when you were on LD Expert Live, you talked a little bit about what it was like for you, like, as a teenager wanting to go to a party or a gathering of friends.
What was that like for you?
Adalyn Smith: Before the training?
Jill Stowell: Uh-huh.
Adalyn Smith: It was exciting to go to the event but also in the back of my head it was – I knew I was going to come away exhausted and nobody else has to deal with that feeling in the back of their head as being a second thought. It’s always the, “I’m going to go have a good time and I’m going to go live it up. It’s going to be great. I’m going to come home, and then I’m going to get a great night’s rest.”
But for me it’s I’m going to go and I’m going to try to participate as much as I can. I’m going to fall behind a lot. I’m not going to talk a lot. I’m just going to stand there, do my thing.
Hopefully I’m going to look like I’m having a good time. Like I don’t know. Like do I just have like this awkward blank stare? Probably. I probably do. But, you know, it’s fine.
But I just go and I give my best and then if I have to leave halfway through the event, I leave and that’s fine because I am too exhausted to keep going, then yeah.
Jill Stowell: That is something I just love about you is that you are able to say to yourself, “I do my best and if I need to leave, I leave,” and you leave.
Adalyn Smith: I need to leave. Yeah.
Jill Stowell: Yeah, that’s great.
Adalyn Smith: That didn’t come very easily actually.
Jill Stowell: Right, I’m sure.
Adalyn Smith: It’s almost – I almost felt guilty leaving because they planned this whole event and they did all this work and they were very, very excited about it and then I leave halfway through it and I’m like, “I tried. I really did but I just can’t get through it. It’s exhausting,” and it takes some time to get there. It doesn’t just happen overnight.
Jill Stowell: Yeah. That is really, really true but I think it’s encouraging. It’s something as parents and teachers we just really want to help our kids, one, understand themselves and listen to them because they’re going to teach us a lot.
I mean I really meant it when I said my students are my best teachers. That’s where I’ve learned the most. So it kind of goes both ways. As parents and teachers, we need to be listening and learning also. But then encouraging our students, our kids to say things like that to them – you know, verbally about themselves. I’m doing the best that I can and what I’m doing is OK.
Adalyn Smith: And it’s enough.
Jill Stowell: And it’s enough.
Adalyn Smith: And it will be just fine. Yeah.
Jill Stowell: Yeah. I love that.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: So you did both auditory and processing skills training remotely for Stowell Learning Center. I didn’t even get to meet you personally in person until after you had finished the training. But what is different for you now since doing the training?
Adalyn Smith: I would say my confidence levels are so much higher than they used to be. When you get diagnosed with a disorder or auditory processing issues or any learning or teaching challenge, in society you’re automatically placed into a stigma of you’re dumb, stupid and slow and that’s all you’re ever going to be and nothing is going to change, which is absolutely not true. It can actually change. You can change that mindset if you work on that and it’s still uncomfortable for me but I’m also still working on that.
I think a lot of the things that my trainer taught me was you know more than you think you do and you can actually do what you think you can’t do. You just have to walk through the steps. It’s in your brain. You just have to pick that out a little bit and you will get there, which definitely helps boost my confidence a lot because it got me out of the mindset of I’m actually not dumb or stupid or slow. I just work differently and that’s fine. I just have to learn what those ways are for me first before I look at somebody else and think, “Why can’t I do what you’re doing right now?”
Jill Stowell: You know, it just breaks my heart to hear you say, but I know that it’s true, that when you struggle in – especially in school because kids spend so much time in school – but when you struggle in school, you have a learning disability of some sort or a learning difference that you and many people around you kind of automatically go to, “Oh well, they’re just not as smart. They’re slow.”
You are absolutely right. I mean the truth is that that is not true at all. In fact, most of our students – and we have a lot of students – and most of our students, if you were to compare them intellectually with other people in their class, they would be way on the upper end. So intelligence really has nothing to do with it.
Adalyn Smith: No, it doesn’t.
Jill Stowell: But it’s a lack of understanding out there, which is part of what we’re trying to do here.
Adalyn Smith: It’s the main thing that gets attacked. It’s the first thing that comes up. So I’m not smart just because I’m not doing good on a standardized test, which has nothing to do with it and I could talk about that for hours. But we don’t have time for that. So …
Jill Stowell: Yeah.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: So college is a whole other step. Things go faster. The lectures are much more dense. The expectations are higher. So many classes. But – and we haven’t even really talked about this at all - but having gone through the auditory training, how do you think that college is different for you than it would have been?
Adalyn Smith: That’s a great question. I think it’s so much less stressful because I learned how to take better notes. I learned how to listen for keywords better. I learned how to listen for professors’ tones changing in lectures, which has been huge. I learned what information was more important than other information, which I didn’t understand how to do before.
I learned how to have confidence in not only the room, like a professor’s room but also in like a group setting with group projects and group conversations going on. I learned so many things. It is wild.
Jill Stowell: You know, it’s interesting as I listen to you talk because some of the things that you’re describing, I mean, are skills definitely but also just being able to function in a room where you have different groups working. That shows a huge increase in your auditory system’s ability to block information and to get information more clearly and accurately and that’s something that it’s hard to label the skill of it. But that’s really the basis of the auditory training is it’s stimulating that system in the brain to actually get the information more easily. So I’m happy to hear you, how you’re describing it, because I can tell that that has provided better foundation for you.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah, definitely.
Jill Stowell: So let’s talk about the training. From a student standpoint, what was the training like?
Adalyn Smith: It was like so many things. There were so many things that were happening all the time. But I loved it. Some sessions were hard. Some sessions were easier. That’s just how it goes with any training and I was surprised at how much reading we did. But it helped me so much.
There were exercises where we would read a paragraph from a passage and then we would summarize it and look at it or find the main points and then it would do the same for like the next five and then I would go through the story and tell her again of exactly what happened with my key points.
At the end I was actually able to do that which I couldn’t do that before and that was like, whoa, I just did that. Like I could not have done that nine months ago and we just like drilled it into my brain and it was like key points, summarize, paraphrase. Like I have it in my brain. I just have to slow down and just do it.
Jill Stowell: And have strategies for organizing and holding the information.
Adalyn Smith: Yes, exactly. Yeah.
Jill Stowell: Yeah. And I remember you saying when we talked, when we actually personally met, saying the training was hard sometimes.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah, it wasn’t easy but it was definitely worth it for sure.
Jill Stowell: So one of the things that’s really hard for families is just fitting in one more thing and you were a part of a busy family and a senior in high school. How did you manage to fit it in?
Adalyn Smith: That’s a great question. Sometimes I look back and I’m like, “I don’t know how I did that.” But I think it just comes back to time management and putting important things at the center because – and a lot of times, when a child is younger, they’re learning a lot more at a faster rate and it sticks with them for their life. So you have to decide what they’re going to learn and what’s going to stick with them throughout their elementary and middle school years. That’s what I would say.
Jill Stowell: One of the things with this kind of learning skills, cognitive training is you’ve got to be consistent. You’ve got to work kind of intensively so the session really, really pushed you.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: But you’ve also got to be consistent and that was one of the things that I really, really appreciated about you. I mean you did this as a student. I mean we really were working with you more than with your parents to do this and you were very, very consistent with it and I like what you said about, you know, you have to decide what’s going to be important, what’s going to make the most difference right now.
Adalyn Smith: And I think if a parent can see that their child is struggling in school, they come home exhausted and frustrated and it’s mental breakdown after mental breakdown and it’s just this constant battle. I think that’s a sign that some type of auditory training should be taken or some help should be given to the child because that will help so much in the coming years with more academic work.
Jill Stowell: That’s a really, really great point because those breakdowns can look like really annoying, irritating behavior.
Adalyn Smith: Right. Yeah.
Jill Stowell: And that is – we just always have to realize that if that behavior is showing up, there’s a reason for it and it’s not because you have a bad kid.
Adalyn Smith: No, they’re a great kid.
Jill Stowell: They’re frustrated but they’re doing their best and it’s just not working out. So thank you. That’s a great point. So what would – you talked a lot about TLP, The Listening Program.
Adalyn Smith: I love it.
Jill Stowell: On Instagram. Which is a part of the auditory training, a really critical part. Are you still doing TLP?
Adalyn Smith: Yeah, I’m not doing it as much just because college is so intensive. I try to do it about once per day. I normally will do it when I wake up just because it gets your auditory systems ready for the day and it kind of gets your mind refreshed and ready to go or you could do it at night and that kind of helps your auditory systems like breathe. Say I’m OK. Like I just took in so much information and now I have to process everything and go to bed and then start it all over again. So I’m still doing it about once a day but …
Jill Stowell: Great, great.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: It’s a huge support for the system in so many ways. Yeah.
Adalyn Smith: Definitely.
Jill Stowell: So as you think about the training that you did, the processing skills and auditory training, what was the hardest part?
Adalyn Smith: Oh, that’s a great question. I think there were different exercises that we did that were more difficult than others and I think one of those was the mind benders. Those were so difficult. Even just thinking about that, it was like wow, that was really hard.
It’s basically just like for – like eight different items and then you have to match them together based on clues. But you can’t use paper. You can only use your mind to work through those and it’s just difficult.
Jill Stowell: Yeah, and those – we really use those to start to integrate all different things, reasoning and memory and visualizing and sequencing. There are lots and lots of skills in there.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: So this is a really hard question. But is there anything that stands out to you from the training that you feel like made the biggest change for you?
Adalyn Smith: I think there’s a lot of things. Like I said earlier, my confidence level shot up. I think the biggest thing was my ability to take a project or anything academic and think about it in smaller terms and not get so stressed about it because before when I had any type of project, I will just break down and I would freeze or I would be so stiff the whole day because I was so stressed about this math worksheet or about this science project.
But training taught me to put it in smaller parts and then slowly work through instead of looking at this huge project and saying, “How am I supposed to do all of this in like a week?” when really you only have to do 10 to 15 minutes per day, which I thought was very cool. I was like, “Wow, this is actually possible. Like really nice to know.”
Jill Stowell: It really is and that’s a lifelong thing, I will tell you, because it’s really easy to get overwhelmed with so much. But as soon as we break it down, whoo, we can breathe a little bit.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah. It’s like whoo, deep breaths, deep breaths. Yeah, for sure.
Jill Stowell: So for students going through auditory training, what would you say to them, maybe to encourage them?
Adalyn Smith: I would say – in technical terms, the first one is very, very difficult. You’re getting into this very intensive routine and there’s lots of things going on. There’s the listening program and there’s the other very intensive training. But then once you get more into it, it’s a lot better and it’s a lot easier. I would also say expect to have really, really hard days.
After some of my trainings, I just cried for like 20 minutes. I was like this is so hard and it’s exhausting. But it was so worth it and it was definitely life-changing as well. But yeah, expect to be tired because it’s about an hour and a half session like three times a week or two different times a week.
But afterwards you think like, wow, I just did that and I just like did all the exercises and my – like yes, my brain is mush and it’s exhausted but also it grew so much and now I know how to do so many more things and I learned so many more skills.
Also I kept like a little journal. They’re on my listening papers of all the little successes I had during school, during different events, during conversations I had and even like looking back through those, I was like I remember that day when I finally got that concept in school or I remember when the TLP helped me so much today because of this exhausting thing in school.
So do the Listening Program. It’s the best thing ever. It’s amazing and also every little bit of training is worth it. Yes, the session seemed long and tiring but – and you look back and you think, “Holy cow, I just did nine months to a year of training.” Like that’s incredible and that was really, really hard work but you did it and you did every single session of that and it was so, so worth it. So I would say push through and just keep working on it no matter what.
Jill Stowell: Yeah, and just show up and do it. Man, you said so much in there Adalyn. Whenever you start something new, change is hard and learning new things, it’s always a challenge and then gradually those neuro connections get made and things get easier.
But you’re right. In a training like this, if we’re not pushing you, then you’re not going to learn as much. You’re not really going to make those neural changes. So you are going to have some really - days that feel great and then others when you’re really getting pushed that feel hard and I love that you journaled because then you really can – you know, you can appreciate yourself for …
Adalyn Smith: Exactly.
Jill Stowell: … what you’ve done and that’s so encouraging.
Adalyn Smith: And you have to have the good and bad days where you stretch your mind and where you just practice to have that good balance of getting everything together in one.
Jill Stowell: Yeah, absolutely.
Adalyn Smith: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: Well, Adalyn, I appreciate you so much. I appreciate your passion for helping others understand and navigate APD. You’re just so real and authentic and I know that that has helped so many other teens and their parents and teachers. So where can people find you on social media?
Adalyn Smith: Yeah. You can find me at “@advocate4apd”. It’s on Instagram. I’m currently trying to get a Facebook page up as well or you can email me at [email protected].
Jill Stowell: And that is the number four, right?
Adalyn Smith: Yes, yes, thank you. Uh-huh, yeah. On both of those. Yeah.
Jill Stowell: Great. Well, Adalyn, thank you so much for sharing with us today. I think auditory processing challenges are one of the most invisible learning challenges. So getting your perspective from the inside is incredibly helpful.
Adalyn Smith: I’m glad I could help in whatever way.
Jill Stowell: Thank you.
Adalyn Smith: Of course.
Jill Stowell: Next week, we will be talking with Dr. Lindsey Sterling, founder of the Sterling Institute for Autism. When your child or teen is struggling, it’s hard to know what to do and where to turn and Dr. Sterling really gets that. Be sure to tune in for our conversation about supporting your neurodiverse or autistic youth when life gets complicated.
At Stowell Learning Centers, we help children and adults eliminate struggles associated with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder and learning differences. We want to make this journey easier for you. Connect with us on social media and on our website stowellcenter.com for information and free resources.
If you found this episode valuable, please like and subscribe so you don’t miss out on any of our new episodes. The struggles associated with dyslexia and learning differences can be eliminated. Please help us get the word out by leaving a five-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Let’s change the narrative together.
- Episode 70: The IEP – What Parents Need to Know – Dina Kaplan
- Episode 69: Embracing Differences and Building Social Emotional Health – Suzanne McClure
- Episode 68 – Executive Function Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Students + T.E.F.O.S. – Part 2 – Seth Perler
- Episode 67 – The Executive Function Online Summit PLUS a Special Message for Kids – Part 1 – Seth Perler
- Episode 66 – Auditory Processing and Managing Anxiety – Jill Stowell on the Re-Focus Podcast with Angela Stephens
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