Auditory processing disorders describe a problem with the processing of sound in the brain. Known as APD or CAPD for central auditory processing disorder, people who have it may have good hearing and even pass hearing tests, but will also have trouble processing particular sounds, especially the rapid sounds of speech.
Auditory processing can play a part in dyslexia, inattention, autism spectrum and other learning challenges but can also exist on its own.1 Ear infections, premature birth, trauma and stress can contribute, but in particular, it is how the child acquired language, which is really important. Reading, writing and learning is fundamentally a language skill and the neural pathways in the brain don't grow without hearing it over and over. Children who have not heard enough language, either through conversational speech or being read to, can also have auditory processing problems. This is the reason why "baby talk" (or "parentese" with its emphasis on vowel sounds) and reading to babies and toddlers is so important.
Students who have an auditory processing disorder may struggle with:
- spelling, reading and comprehension due to poor phonemic skills2,3
- concentrating in a noisy environment like classrooms
- following age appropriate instructions
- saying words like "hop si tal" instead of "hospital"
- completing tasks
- paying attention
- sequencing stories or a series of events
- social exclusion and/or a high frequency of misunderstandings
- confusion, stress and anxiety resulting in depression, frustration
- a widening gap between them and their peers
- a lack of social and academic success, leading to withdrawal
Reading builds on language skills through phonemic awareness. If a child does not hear the sounds of a language correctly, they can have trouble matching a sound to the right letter. Learning to spell and read is thus difficult and may seem more like torture to this student who will often begin withdrawing from learning and school by Year 2 and 3.
If your child isn't thriving at school, and hearing tests have come back normal, it may be wise to have an APD assessment to work out if auditory processing is an issue. These tests can also determine exactly which sounds are not being processed efficiently. Many Hearing Australia stores conduct auditory processing testing. Call them on 134 432 to find out more and a store near you. Make sure you mention auditory processing testing as it is different from the more common hearing test.
Auditory processing can be improved by developing and exercising the underlying skills that cause it, just like exercise strengthens muscles. Brain research has come a long way in the last 30 years and because of fMRI, we can now see what makes neural pathways in the brain more efficient for learning. Using these principles of neuroplasticity, it is possible to develop the cognitive skills of memory, attention, processing and sequencing to improve learning outcomes.4 One such program is called Fast ForWord and it was featured in the book The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr Norman Doidge. Fast ForWord works on the neurological level, providing the necessary repetition to build basic language and cognitive pathways in the brain that other programs don't provide.
One exercise in Fast ForWord for example, works on strengthening sequencing skills. Without hearing speech in the correct sequence, students don't remember instructions well, mix up syllables, words and events which affect spelling, reading and comprehension. Think about trying to guess the tune that a preschool percussion band is playing compared to an orchestra playing the same tune. It is more recognisable from the orchestra because the right notes are in an order that is already mapped in your brain through memory (not that listening to a preschool percussion band isn't fun, mind you.) Students who do this Fast ForWord exercise will listen to thousands of beeps, which represent the different pitches and tones of speech. They have to tune into them and put them in the right order, which will make them easier for their brain to map and recall. It also starts off easy to distinguish and gets faster as they progress.
Being able to process the rapid sounds of speech helps students in all subjects. A clearly heard instruction from the teacher for example, is more likely to be remembered and acted upon than one that is misheard or garbled. This is also true in the home environment where the completion of tasks helps to run things more smoothly and with less argument and resistance.
Increased auditory processing skills may also improve social outcomes through better understanding and less frustration. Students with auditory processing issues are often misunderstood, leading to disagreements, fighting, exclusion and bullying, which also adds to a growing dislike of school and learning. This is why it is important to address auditory processing issues, because it is not just their academic success that is affected, but also their social and mental wellbeing.
Monique Peters is the parent of a struggling learner. She has developed a passion for helping children and adults to learn better after reading Dr Norman Doidge's book The Brain That Changes Itself and then working with a speech pathologist for four years. Her business, Brain Wise Learning brings evidence based programs and products used by speech pathologists all over the world to you, to do in the comfort of your own home.
1. SPELD. (2018). Auditory Processing Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.speld.org.au.
2. Barnes, D. (2015, July 1). ADHD, Auditory Processing D is order
or Specif ic Language Impairment? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.learnfasthq.com.
3. AIT Institute. (2018). What is Central Auditory Processing Disorder? Retrieved f rom https://www.aitinstitute.org.
4. Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself: VIC. Scribe Publications, p71.
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