What is the Connection Between Auditory Processing Disorder and Reading?
This is a question we are asked with some frequency; or conversely, when we see a child with a reading disorder, it is not uncommon that it is suggested that the child be seen by an audiologist for auditory processing testing. This diagnosis can be made only by an audiologist, but there are times we see symptoms that strongly suggest a processing disorder. As far as what causes an auditory processing disorder, it is largely unknown. However, it is very frequently seen in children who have had repeated incidents of middle ear infections (otitis media), although not all children with recurrent ear infection have an auditory processing disorder. There is some evidence linking auditory processing disorders to head trauma and lead exposure. It is frequently diagnosed in children who are also diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder (often hypersensitive to sound), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), language-learning disabilities, and dyslexia.
Let's define what auditory processing is. Auditory processing refers to how the brain interprets what the ear hears. It isn't one thing; there are several auditory processes. To name a few: Auditory attention, which is the ability to pay and maintain attention to auditory stimuli. In the classroom, an impairment of this process may "look like" the child who is looking out the window while the teacher is talking or says "huh?" when the teacher calls on him. Auditory memory is the ability to remember and retain pertinent auditory stimuli. So a child with an impairment of auditory memory is the one who needs to have the directions repeated or broken down into smaller bits. Another important auditory process is the ability to listen through background noise which kids often do in school, in the schoolyard, and in the lunchroom. When we hear, "Have some tea" as "Have some key", it is auditory discrimination that is not "working up to par." Auditory recognition is the ability to store a word in memory and then recognize it, upon hearing it. You hear the word "book," for example, and your brain instantaneously begins to look for it in its "filing cabinet" and says, "Aha, here it is, 'book,' that thing with pages, words and pictures. I know what that is." But what if the sound is distorted, and you only hear the "ook" part of the word? You hear "I read a _ook." An individual with an intact processing system will figure out the word, despite the distortion, because contextually, it makes sense.
There are numerous auditory processes, and deficits in one or more of them may affect a variety of language and language arts areas. Receptive language, for example, is strongly associated with reading comprehension. Expressive language is strongly associated with writing skills. Phonological processing development is strongly associated with spoken language and spelling. (Phonological processing includes how a sound is stored in an individual's brain which affects how the individual produces the sound, both in isolation and in words.)
Auditory Processing Disorders can be quite successfully treated. We worked a student with the dual diagnosis of Auditory Processing Disorder and Dyslexia.
She was a second grader, who was diagnosed as having an auditory processing disorder and dyslexia, when she began to attend our reading program, twice weekly. Using the Phonic Engine® Reading method, we began to focus intensively on phonics skills. Within a few months the student had improved several grade levels. After slightly more than a year, she was not only in the top reading group, she also declared to whomever would listen that she loved to read.