Improve Your Processing Skills: Processing Activities
Auditory Digit Span - Video Instructions
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Auditory Digit Span - Instructions
This activity improves auditory sequential processing and short-term memory. It may be used for both children and adults.
To begin, experiment to find out the digit span range with which to start. Start off by testing the auditory digit span to establish a baseline. To test the auditory digit span, say a sequence of numbers in a monotone voice and at exactly one-second intervals to the individual, and have him repeat the sequence. The sequence needs to be repeated in the same order in which it was presented. Begin with an easy sequence that you feel confident he will be able to repeat; if he gets it correct, add another digit and continue until an error is made. Give one more sequence at the level missed; if he gets it correct, try going up a level. The highest level at which he was able to give you a correct response is the baseline. For example, you might start with a sequence of 3 digits. If he gets it correct, give him a sequence of 4. If he is correct again, give a sequence of 5. If he misses the 5, give another 5; if he misses the second 5, the baseline is 4. It is important that the sequences be given at the same speed and that numbers are not used twice or in numerical order such as 1, 2 or 5, 6.
Now that you have established a baseline, you are ready to work on the activity. We have discovered that most people do better if we work within a range of digits. For example, if the individual's baseline is 6, present sequences of 5, 6, and initial 7s to him. As he starts getting the 7s add more 7s and fewer 5s and 6s. At the point where he is getting many of the 7s correct, give three 7s in a row, and if he is able to get two of the three correct, move the baseline up to 7. With a baseline of 7, present 6s, 7s, and initial 8s.
It is important to be aware of the various ways a person can decrease the effectiveness of auditory digit spans, such as with chunking, chaining, or visualizing. Chunking is a technique a person may use to group the numbers. For example, if you give him the sequence "8—0—3—5—7—1" and he repeats it back by saying "803-571," he has chunked it into two pieces. As a result, he is only processing two pieces rather than six. Another strategy is chaining. If you give the sequence "8—0—3—5—7—1" and as he listens to you he repeats the whole sequence over and over, adding another number, this is chaining the numbers. For example "8, 80, 803, 8035, 80357, 803571." Many people also visualize the auditory sequences. You can tell if a person is visualizing by looking at the eye gaze. If while you are giving a digit span, the listener is looking up, to the side, or the eyes are closed, he could be visualizing. He could also be visualizing if he uses fingers to represent the numbers in the sequence. All of these strategies are to be discouraged.
With this activity intensity is vital. You need to do whatever is necessary to get the individual's intensity level as high as possible. Doing something frequently tends to decrease intensity, so for children you will probably need to offer an outside reinforcer. Verbal praise might carry you through a few sessions, but it may not be adequate for the long term. Establishing competition can often help increase intensity and should be encouraged. For most children you will need to look for strong outside reinforcers. It is important to remember that improving sequential processing is going to impact virtually every aspect of life, so think big. If on a scale of 1 to 10 the individual's intensity level falls below a 5, then he would be better off taking a nap; but if you can get the intensity level at about a 6 or a 7, you are going to see real progress.
One final note: under normal circumstances sequential processing skills will develop at the rate of a digit span per year, up until 7 digits are achieved. After 7 digits specific intervention is often needed. So on one hand, be patient - digits do not jump overnight; but on the other hand sequential processing skills will improve much faster if the intensity is high.