Tips from Our Experts: Auditory Memory

From the desk of Maureen Jeffreys, Speech/Language Pathologist

There are many different kinds of memory. For example: auditory memory (remembering what you HEAR), visual memory (remembering what you SEE) and kinesthetic memory (remembering what you experience through other senses), short-term memory (recalling things for a few seconds), working memory (remembering something long enough to process and use it) and long-term memory. We all have our strengths and weaknesses in different kinds of memory. You probably know someone who “never forgets a face” or “always remembers everyone’s name”, people who can do math in their heads, and people who can recall minutely events from years ago. These all involve some kind of memory. Today we are focusing on auditory working memory.

Why is auditory working memory important?
Our children need auditory working memory to attend, to hear differences between sounds and words, to echo or imitate sounds and speech, to follow spoken directions and to recall the information they have heard and then use it functionally. If a child doesn’t have good auditory memory, they might: find it hard to sustain attention, struggle to process and follow directions (simple to complex), have difficulty imitating speech or difficulty learning and retaining new vocabulary, or struggle with reading. They might have difficulty telling you a story or about their day; might be shy or easily frustrated.

How can we work on auditory memory? Below are a list of games and activities that work on auditory memory. However, remember some of these tips before you begin! Some tips to remember:

  • Use the child’s name before giving an instruction and make sure the child is looking at you before you talk.
  • Let the child know when you are about to give an instruction, either verbally or by using a signal (e.g. lifting a finger in the air).
  • Use simple language and not too much of it!
  • Allow the child time to respond.
  • If the child struggles, simplify the instruction by shortening it rather than rewording it.
  • Minimize the number of key points that the child has to remember.

And remember! You don’t have to do ALL the activities. Pick some and repeat them every day. Repetition and practice are key! And since they are LISTENING tasks, try not to give other “clues”!

Start early! Even little or young nonverbal students need to work on auditory memory!

  • Work on listening games like: “What makes that sound?” These are activities where the object or animal that makes a certain sound is not visible when the sound is made or played (like a recording) but is presented after a pause in which the child is encouraged to “guess”. A simple “at home” game involves hiding animal figures, vehicles, or common noisy objects (e.g. bell, clock, whistle, drum, etc.) in a pillow case. The adult looks inside the pillow case with an excited expression and then makes the sound of the object or animal they are going to draw out (e.g. vroom for the car, tick-tick for the clock, moo for the cow, etc.). Then they pull it out dramatically (like a magician!) and says the object name (“CAR!”). The pause between the noise and the object being pulled out allows the child to “guess” if they can. If the child can’t SAY or sign the name, you can have picture choices (e.g. a bingo card full of possible choices, just 2 or 3 pictures lying near the child) for them to point to. If you are using pictures, make the noise and after you pull out the object, help the child point to the correct picture.
  • You can be a “sound detective” and go listen to various sound makers in the house (e.g. the humming refrigerator) or outside (e.g. distant cars, sirens, birds, dogs) and identify what is making that sound! “I hear a….” Make a pause between the “I hear a…” and naming it. That allows the child time to fill in the answer! Don’t forget to listen for family voices! (I hear Mommy!)
  • Play musical chairs to listen for when the music begins and stops!
  • Set up a store with household items and have the child “shop” for you (Let’s get a…cup and book). If they can remember two items, ask for three next time. Remember: this is a listening activity! Try not to give any clues (by pointing or looking at the items named) unless they don’t find it the first time!
  • Have your child repeat a sound (e.g. ah), word (go), or number (2). Then have them repeat two sounds, words, or numbers (e.g. ay/oh, go jump, 4-9) then three.
  • For the more verbal child, have them repeat simple sentences (I like ice cream.) and if they do well, have them repeat a sentence that has an adjective (I like CHOCOLATE ice cream.) or has more than one thing to remember (I like chocolate ice cream and apple pie!).
  • Have the child listen to a simple word (e.g. dog, cup, bus) and tell them “That words starts with ___ sound”. Then say the word again and say “What sound does it start with?” Do this every day with different words starting with the same sound (e.g. door, duck, dog) or a few different sounds. Give your child an opportunity to fill in “(Word) starts with….”.
  • Put out 6 items or photos on a tray or table. Ask the child to get you one (where’s the block?). If the child does well ask for two (give me the block and the spoon), then three (give me the x, y, z).
  • Have the child “tell” something to another parent or family member. For example: “Tell Daddy ‘come here’.” “Tell Sissy ‘clap hands’!”
  • Play “Simon Says” with one body part (Simon says…touch your ear!) and if they can do that, add a second body part (Simon says… touch your nose and touch your foot) or do two actions (Simon says, jump up and clap your hands).

For the older or more verbal students:

  • Treasure Hunt: hide an object and give directions (one spoken direction at a time) to how to find it (remembers and recalls a direction).
  • Have them follow directions to draw something (e.g. Draw a house, Put a tree near it, draw a blue car in front of the house. Etc.)
  • Make something (e.g. baking or an art project) and have them write down the recipe/ directions as you do each step. When you are finished, remove the written directions and ask the student to tell you “how did we…?”
  • Read a book to your student (chapter books are great for this!) and ask questions about something you just read to the student but isn’t visible (e.g. “Who is Tommy’s best friend?”, “Where did they want to go?”, etc.)
  • When you finish a chapter or the book, have the student tell someone else what that chapter or story was about.
  • Tell the student you want them to remember something for later. (e.g. it can be one word like “Umbrella” or “Dogs work in packs”). Then have the student do a different activity (e.g. draw a picture, help fold laundry, play a game). Then ask “What did I ask you to remember?”