How Our Auditory System Affects Learning – Underlying Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Auditory Processing Disorders

Today, we are faced with many labels or conditions that affect learning. Many have a partial underlying cause in our auditory system including autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, developmental delay, dyslexia, central auditory processing disorder, and auditory processing disorder.

Hypersensitivities to sound may cause an individual to shut out sounds as a defensive mechanism and behave as if he were deaf. On the other hand the same sensitivity may cause another to scream and hold her ears. Learning will be impeded until these sensitivities are normalized.

Another difficulty arises when there is fluid in the ear. Since the Eustachian tubes in young children are more horizontal, fluid can build up and bacteria can form in this warm moist environment. Pressure from the fluid can cause pressure and pain – an ear ache. Repeated ear infections during the first two years of life can greatly affect development of the auditory system. During an infection, the individual hears as if under water and the sounds are not consistent. This in turn can cause receptive auditory problems as well as speech problems. Treating these ear infections without antibiotics or tubes will greatly enhance learning.

Difficulty following oral directions and learning to read using phonics represent just two problems reflected by low auditory sequential processing. When an individual has low auditory sequential processing they cannot remember a series of information long enough to use that information. For example, an individual should be able to look up a phone number or be told a phone number long enough to dial the phone. When parents ask their children to do a short list of chores and within minutes they have forgotten what it was they were to do and they engage in another activity – often play, parents often assume that this is disobedience. It could be disobedience, but it could also be low auditory sequential processing. When a child sounds out a relatively short word, but at the end cannot say the word, it is often due to low auditory sequential processing. Optimally, the solution for these difficulties is not accommodating a deficit, but increasing the auditory sequential processing.

Another major underlying cause for many of these children (and adults) is metabolic – diet / nutrition related. Often these children have what is called “leaky gut syndrome” meaning that nutrients cannot be easily absorbed for use in the body. Many options arise to consider. Elimination diets often remove the offending foods. Other diets work to resolve the issue; some by fixing the leaky gut and others by restoring a balance among nutrients. Families should research the alternatives and find the one that fits their family.

Neurodevelopmentalists look for underlying causes of the missing pieces in development and recommend activities and resources for families, guiding them to solutions.

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