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Not hearing, not listening or not processing?

Do you worry that your child seems to be often daydreaming, does not seem to be following spoken instructions, gets similar words or sounds in words mixed up, has more trouble when it is noisy such as in the classroom or has trouble attending or concentrating? You have had their hearing tested and have been told that it is fine. What next?Your child could possibly have an Auditory processing problem. Frank Muziek, PhD, an audiologist and leading researcher in this area describes auditory processing as “how well the ear talks to the brain and how well the brain understands what the ear tells it.” Put in another way, Auditory processing refers to ‘what we do with what we hear’. A child who experiences difficulties using the sounds that they hear, may have an Auditory Processing Disorder, or APD for short. The child often has normal hearing but cannot make sense out of sound, particularly speech, when in a complex situation, such as in the classroom at school.

Hearing, in the most basic sense, involves two main parts of our system, the ear and the brain. The ears’ job is to receive; code and process sound then send it up toward the brain. The brain then receives this informational, “files” it, filters the extraneous, unnecessary portion and directs attention to the desired information. When problems occur with this system we commonly look to the peripheral part of the ear as the culprit. In some cases, however, the problems occur further up with abnormalities occurring in the processing of the information received. In APD there is distortion, or a misunderstanding at the brain level, resulting in mixed messages.

You might be surprised to know that 2-3% of children have some form of auditory processing disorder. The ratio of boys to girls is 2:1. There is a common link with children who have a history of ear infections, speech and language disorders as well as some specific conditions such as ADHD and dyslexia.

So what can be done? Well there has been much research undertaken of late by the National Acoustics Laboratories, one of Australia’s leading international research bodies. NAL have validated and now recommend test protocols to ascertain whether an APD is present. They also recommend management programs that have also been validated. We are fortunate that Dunsborough and Margaret River Hearing, our local Audiology practice in Geraldton are now offering assessments and treatment based on the NAL recommended protocols.

Michelle Soares Mendes, senior audiologist, says that “auditory processing difficulties can be accurately diagnosed and managed and the current tools that we have available to treat APDs are very sound ”. Michelle further explains, “We rehabilitate children with what is called a ‘management tripod’. This involves a three tiered approach designed to suit the child’s particular needs. It includes Environmental modification such as improving the signal to noise ratio in the classroom; Compensatory strategies such as teaching individual things to improve listening eg active listening sit up straight face speaker; and lastly Direct intervention where we directly target the Central Nervous System with repetitive stimulation, accessing neural plasticity by using home handout activities and sometimes software based programs such as the LISN S.

If you would like to find out more about services available you can contact Dunsborough & Margaret River Hearing on 0429 724 145 or click here.

*NAL is the research arm of Australian Hearing, a commonwealth government authority under the Department of Human Services, see also http://capd.nal.gov.au/