Many parents may worry about their child’s hearing, especially when a child is too young to communicate verbally. Although there is usually no need for concern, we do need to be aware that hearing is a critical part of a child’s development. We all tend to understand that hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to understand and speak language and appreciate how it may well affect their behaviour, yet we are often unaware of how crucial hearing is for a child’s understanding of their world. It is not just how much a child hears but also how they hear, how they process the information and even how this auditory input is integrated with the other senses.
How we hear determines how we learn to speak
What we hear comes in the form of sound waves from vibrations, which we both hear and feel. The frequency, or pitch, is determined by the speed of the vibration. Rapid vibration produces a high frequency sound and a slow vibration produces a low frequency sound. These vibrations stimulate and activate neural processes, allowing us to not only hear sound but also understand it. Encouraging and enhancing listening skills through stimulation helps a child to combine information about what they can hear and see, taste, smell and even touch.
This connection between hearing and a child’s physical experience through movement is demonstrated in many ways. For example, when working with children who are experiencing coordination difficulties, introducing a sound therapy is consistently observed to improve posture, balance and motor skills.
A typical example is Harry, a nine year old boy, who attended the Sound Learning Centre in the Summer of 2005. Over a period of ten days, Harry came to our clinic twice a day for both Auditory Integration Training (AIT) sound therapy and Lightwave Stimulation (LWS) light therapy. Each session consisted of 30 minutes of AIT treatment and 20 minutes of Lightwave Stimulation.
Hearing and balance are closely related
Just four days into the treatment, we heard from his mother that Harry does not stumble or fall any more. Up till then, Harry constantly tripped up, bumped himself and fell over, always having bruises and plasters on his arms and legs. Suddenly this stopped and Harry had no difficulties any more with keeping his balance or avoiding obstacles. This example indicates how there are direct links between sounds, the ear and the body, attuning the listening induces an attuning of the entire body.
Where hearing is a function of the ear, auditory processing – listening – is a function of the brain. Auditory processing describes the way the brain assigns significance and meaning to the sounds in the environment. Effective auditory processing requires a good attention span, a well-functioning memory, and sensitivity to the many subtleties of sound. When parts of this complex system haven’t yet fully matured or break down, listening is compromised.
Hearing + Processing = Listening
Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) or Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) occurs when the brain cannot process or understand correctly the sounds the ears hear, even though the ears might be functioning properly. Auditory processing is the system running from the ear to the brain and is to be distinguished from hearing, language, and thinking.
Distorted hearing profiles can also be detrimental to how a child functions in their environment. For example, something like continued ear infections during critical periods of neuronal network formation may disrupt normal development. Without being able to hear properly, as certain frequencies may be ‘blocked’ due to the infection, they are unable to process and integrate that information. As a result, language, both written and spoken, may be delayed, the sense of balance disrupted or worse. With each ear infection crucial frequencies of sound are not integrated within the critical time frame of development.