When it's easier to be guilty


by Monique Peters

In this article, Cathy shares the pain of her son’s confusion

in primary school and how it played out in the classroom.


Sam didn’t choose to struggle at school, any more than he chose to have a difficulty with learning. He certainly didn’t choose the cruelty of bullying and the social exclusion that came with it.

When your child has auditory processing issues, their ability to find the right words can be difficult, especially when they’re stressed. Over time, they may lose confidence in their ability to communicate and doubt themselves. When enough confidence has been lost that they learn to plead guilty rather than fight for their innocence, you know their self esteem has hit a new low.


In Years 4 and 5, Sam experienced so many “incidents” that mum Cathy was unsure when and when not to report them to the school. She couldn’t always decide exactly where the boundaries between normal banter, teasing and bullying were. Sam’s recall was never strong, or confident either.

The worried mum vowed to teach him more social skills in order to keep the small number of friends around. A difficult decision, as Sam was already resisting extra work, whether it came from school, from speech therapy or from mum. Demoralised, Sam was increasingly saying, “oh…not more work the others don’t have to do”.

"... he knew it would be hard to believe a bumbling defence over a smooth prosecution.”

Still, when Sam was in Year 6, Cathy recalls an incident, which still upsets her today. Some boys accused Sam of something terrible, to get him into trouble. Their eloquent accusations versus Sam’s rocky explanation kept going until Sam finally yelled “I did it okay!” and walked away. In his mind, he knew it would be hard to believe a bumbling defence over a smooth prosecution.

A week later, he confessed to admitting and accepting the punishment because the defeated Sam “just wanted it to stop”. Feeling shame, it took Cathy a long time to forgive herself for not believing her son.

What is auditory processing disorder (APD)?

APD is defined as “a problem with the way the ears and the brain work together to understand sound. Children with APD have normal hearing, but difficulty recognising and interpreting the sounds they hear” according to raisingchildren.net.au (viewed 29/1/21). This definition helped Cathy understand why Sam seemed to have a hearing problem, but passed hearing tests.

Now that Sam is 18 and his auditory processing skills have improved, he describes APD more like this:

  • the fear of being asked to read out loud in class
  • not understanding or remembering what the teacher or children were saying, and giving up
  • always being behind on tasks and needing extra time to catch up
  • the terror of being misunderstood, and
  • paralysed when unable to fire a good “comeback” 

Sam hardly felt the psychological safety required for good learning.

Mothers of struggling learners will empathise with both Sam and Cathy. We hope that our children won’t be bullied, teach strategies if they are, and ask the teacher to keep an eye on them. Generally, however, we’re not surprised when it happens.

We also know that social exclusion and bullying is widespread and any child can be a target. From an auditory processing point of view however, being unable to process, understand and respond smoothly denies these children the chance to defend themselves in a way that fosters healthy social interaction. And in Sam’s case, answering the critics only caused further targeting.


Children with APD generally start kindergarten on par with other children, though the gap widens as the social and academic demands increase. The ability to process all the information they hear soon gets tested and areas of development such as language and social skills suffer.

"...get lost."

To illustrate, Sam couldn’t always understand the teacher’s instructions, so a directive such as “get out your maths books, open it to page 23 and answer questions 1 to 4” was often lost. Many times, on asking the child next to him what the teacher had asked, Sam would be told “get lost”.

This didn’t happen all the time, and Sam did learn which children were more helpful than others, but it became increasingly difficult for the confused child to form solid friendships. It was also hard for Sam to pick who was less frustrated with him at the time.

Children with APD often have a weakness with working memory, the type of short-term memory used when talking and responding in conversation. When stressed or anxious, it is difficult to recall not only what happened, but also find the right words to communicate an appropriate response.

This is exactly what Sam experienced each time he was accused of being “weird” and/or “dumb”. Tired of defending himself and without the confidence to do it well, it’s not too hard to figure out why in Year 6, Sam sacrificed his innocence and pleaded guilty, when he wasn’t guilty at all.

Do you know anyone who shares Sam’s or Cathy's predicament?

Head to my website https://www.brainwiselearning.com.au/ and book a free discussion about auditory processing with a parent who understands.

(Names have been changed to protect confidentiality)

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