Posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Audiology and Help for Autistic Children

Children run to outstretched arms of father. Treating auditory processing disorder involves proper diagnosis from an audiologist

Children with autism can have a difficulty with learning and language that isn't the direct result of their autism, but of an additional condition known as Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). APD prohibits children from understanding and processing language in the average or expected way. Since this disorder can have many individualized symptoms and components, to get the proper treatment and instruction children must first be evaluated and properly diagnosed by an audiologist.

Audiology and Help for Autistic Children

"Comprehensive testing of auditory functions using behavioral and electrophysiological methods is important to identify children who can benefit from interventions, including assistive listening devices and environmental changes to improve signal-to-noise levels in the classroom." Chermak, Gail D. PhD, Pathways: Comprehensive Auditory Function Testing Vital for Children with CAPD

Once an autistic child's exact deficit with hearing and language has been determined by an audiologist, a strategy to help introduce the child to the skills necessary for proper listening and the accumulation of language can begin. What are some of the ways an audiologist can help autistic children? Audiologist Carol A. Lau notes in her Pathway's article Audiology Must Take its Rightful Place on the Autism Team "…Children benefit significantly from intense, appropriate auditory training, but may require longer intervention than children with only APD." Autistic children may require extensive instruction because of other learning and communication challenges that are separate from the APD.

Here are some of the ways that audiologists and other specialist can help children, including autistic children, cope with APD:

• Auditory conditioning and training based on known deficits
• Introduction to Assistive Listening Devices ALD
• Computer-based learning tools
• Speech and Language Processing (Speech Pathologists)
• Instruction of skills used to compensate for deficits
• Language processing training
• Introduction of Musical training

Assistive Listening Devices Helping Autistic Kids in the Classroom

The MARRS Project, a study of classroom amplification noted, "in 1990 children with developmental disabilities in a primary-level class utilizing sound field amplification made significantly fewer errors on a word identification task than they made without amplification. Children were observed to be more relaxed and responded more quickly in the amplified condition." For the student with APD, amplification can help accommodate certain deficits in hearing and language. Autistic children with APD are easily distracted and it has been shown that increasing amplification of a teacher's voice, thereby drowning out background noise, can help these children focus. Phonak, maker of hearing aids and assistive listening sound systems, claims their Dynamic Soundfield developed to help improve classroom acoustics for the hard of hearing, learning disabled, and even the average student has the following benefits:

• Improved sentence recognition ability
• Increased attention, interaction and participation
• Quicker acquisition of reading, writing and numeracy skills
• Easier deciphering of language in early learning years
• Better understanding of teacher for non-native speakers
• Expanded seating options for students with attention deficit issues

Musical Training Helps the Brain with Hearing

Functions of hearing influenced by musical training are timing, pitch lock, pitch track, and processing, to name just a few.

An audiologist can also help autistic students who need amplification in order to hear certain sounds, allowing them to receive further stimulation from the sounds and the world around them. It has been shown by Dr. Nina Kraus of Northwestern that students, specifically those with learning and processing difficulties, can be aided with exposure to music. Listening and playing music activates different regions of the brain and helps to influence some of the deficits APD students have with hearing and language. As Dr. kraus points out, “Music activates many parts of our brain stem.” And students with APD are known to have problems with activities in the brain stem. Her research has given hope to increasing awareness of the importance of what sensory stimulation can do to help children with learning difficulties. Learn more about Dr. Kraus's work and how the mind works to mimic music at Brainvolts the website of Northwestern University Communcation's Department.

Auditory and Speech Training

Audiologist can work to support Verbal Behavior (VB) in autistic students with APD. VB helps teach autistic children to communicate and recognize sounds. This training, like the goal with music and amplification, can be used to bridge the gap in language and processing. Autism Speaks describes VB as, "...designed to motivate a child to learn language by developing a connection between a word and its value. " Autistic children with APD can also benefit from computer programs designed to increase language recognition and listening skills. In addition programs like Earobics are designed to help students who have difficulties with learning achieve greater competency with reading. For more information on helping children with APD, please check out the links below. And if you haven't had your child tested for APD, don't wait see a hearing health professional today.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

Further Information on Helping Autistic Children with APD
Auditory Integration Therapy

Helping autistic kids communicate

Instructive PDF on hearing loss and autism

Autism Speaks on Language Development


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