Addressing Auditory Processing NACD’s Way

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by Lori Riggs, M.A., CCC/SLP

What is it?

“Auditory processing” and “auditory processing disorder” are terms that are thrown around frequently these days. But what does auditory processing actually mean? Auditory processing can loosely be defined as how the brain interprets and uses the auditory signal that comes from the ear. An auditory processing disorder (APD; also referred to as CAPD—central auditory processing disorder) implies difficulty interpreting and using auditory input due to an inefficiency with the neurological system; not a problem with the ear itself.

There are a number of different aspects to the umbrella term “auditory processing.” It is important to understand the differences in these aspects when remediating difficulties with auditory processing. (Incidentally, one does not have to have an official diagnosis of APD or CAPD in order to have a need to address and strengthen any one of these areas.) Some (but not all) areas of auditory processing include:

Auditory Sequential Processing

This term refers to the number of units of information an individual can take in auditorily, use, and retrieve. Auditory sequential processing is closely related to working memory and overall cognition. It is commonly measured by means of auditory digit span, although with some individuals, especially younger children, we measure it in other ways.

Auditory Tonal Processing

This is the foundation of language processing—how the brain interprets actual tones. Hypersensitivity to sound is one symptom of difficulty in this area. Problems with auditory tonal processing may also manifest as:

  • inappropriate inflection and prosody in language production
  • difficulty interpreting the tone of voice and vocal cues of others
  • difficulty discriminating between phonemes (i.e. speech sounds)

Figure-ground Processing

This is defined as the ability to attend to a “figure,” or object of focus, in the presence of a backdrop, or “ground.” Relative to auditory processing, this means the ability to stay focused on the primary auditory input when background sounds/noise are present. An example of this is carrying on a conversation with and attending to your conversational partner while sitting in a restaurant.

Language Processing

Language processing is exactly what the term implies. It is reliant upon the other aspects of auditory processing mentioned above.

Temporal Processing

Temporal” implies time. This aspect is related to the rate of processing, or how long it takes to process specific information.

So what?

Difficulties in any of the above aspects of auditory processing have a profound impact on an individual’s development and function. Difficulties in temporal processing affect language processing, expressive language, speech production, attention, and cognition. Difficulties in figure-ground processing can make attention and listening skills anywhere from difficult to nearly impossible. Difficulties in auditory sequential processing manifest as global cognitive delays. And problems with auditory tonal processing affect can create hypersensitivity to sound, problems with language processing, and issues with speech and voice usage. The great majority of children with learning problems, attentional issues, or developmental delays have an auditory processing issue as well. “Fixing” the auditory system goes a very long way towards solving these problems in learning, attention, and neurological development.

Now what?

At NACD we offer auditory programs, or TSI – Targeted Sound Intervention™ (TSI), for listeners of all ages. We believe the health and efficiency of the auditory system is vital not only to the complete development of the brain, but also to the ongoing maintenance of neurological organization and cognitive function. We also believe it is imperative to address the root of the auditory problems, not simply to use a “band-aid” approach to addressing the symptoms.

NACD’s TSI – Targeted Sound Intervention™ addresses listening-related concerns. Our approaches have been developed based on over three decades of experience with the evolution of therapeutic auditory programs. When all that existed was Dr. Tomatis’ program in France in the 1970’s, Bob Doman had clients travel to France to participate in the Tomatis Method. This was followed by Patricia Joudry’s Sound Therapy for the Walkman, then Auditory Integration Training, and Samonas Sound Therapy. We helped to develop the original version of The Listening Program, based on our experience with hundreds of clients using these previous sound-based programs. Over the years we have collected overwhelming anecdotal data regarding the effectiveness of auditory programs in general and TLP specifically and are involved in formal research in this area as well.

NACD’s TSI – Targeted Sound Intervention™ auditory programs focus on:

  • enhancing listening skills
  • improving auditory processing
  • facilitating speech and language development
  • increasing auditory awareness
  • decreasing painful auditory hypersensitivity
  • increasing concentration and focus.

At NACD a TSI auditory program does not look the same for each individual. A program is customized specifically to meet the needs of each person. A trained professional will make appropriate recommendations and supervise each program throughout the entire process. Contact us to find out how TSI might benefit you.

Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 22 No. 11, 2009 ©NACD