Autism Spectrum Disorder
A neurological disorder that affects how the brain processes sensory information, Autism is often characterized by impaired communication and social interaction. Since a strong auditory processing system is essential to language development, and because language is the foundation of communication and socialization, auditory processing disorder is often a piece of the puzzle connected with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Contrary to popular belief, auditory processing disorders are fairly common among children diagnosed with Autism.
Auditory Disconnection and "Tuning Out"
Many children diagnosed with Autism are not auditorily connected and many may even be auditorily defensive. A child who is not auditorily connected may appear to have hearing loss, often failing to respond to their name or to other auditory input. The same child may respond to nonverbal sounds such as music or the sound of a piece of candy being unwrapped, but not to speech. It may appear that the child is tuning out the sound of speech and in many cases, this is entirely true.
The Foreign Language Analogy
For a better understanding of APD and Autism Spectrum Disorder in children, imagine listening to a foreign language. You are able to hear sound patterns within that language, although those patterns fail to provide any meaning to you. Unable to connect the sound patterns to meaning, you are likely to tune it all out. As a result, the sound patterns would simply become background noise.
Consider also words that may sound familiar to you, such as a name or a place that you can recognize. These words are called “trigger words” which grab your attention because these words provide meaning. For a child with auditory processing disorder, trigger words may include the names of a favorite toy, treat or television show. Unable to assign meaning to words other than those trigger words, a child may become “lost” just as a person listening to a foreign language would.
The foreign language example would surface in a severe case of auditory processing disorder. In a more moderate case of APD, the process would more closely resemble that of listening to a person speak with a strong foreign accent. Although you can follow along with what that person is saying, it often takes extra work, which can be especially tiring. In this instance, you would become more of a selective listener, choosing when to listen and when not to listen. Many children suffering from auditory processing disorder and Autism become selective listeners.
Sound and Sensory Sensitivity
Auditorily defensive children also often exhibit sound sensitivity issues. This can lead children to cover their ears or become wild and behavioral in certain noisy environments. The degree to which a child is affected by these areas also plays an important role in the diagnosis.
Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to have issues with sensory integration organization across many different sensory areas. In fact, auditory processing is just one of the sensory processing areas with vulnerability. Additional processing areas include visual, tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular, smell and taste, among others.
Asperger’s Syndrome and Auditory Cohesion
Auditory cohesion is the ability to understand meaning, inference, abstraction and intention of conversation and music. A higher order function involving tone, facial expressions and body language, auditory cohesion is a major skill associated with auditory processing. Poor auditory cohesion skills are often present in children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Daily Listening Diet
The first step in treating children with auditory processing disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder is to identify the disorganized sensory areas. We can then put together a sensory diet designed to help the sensory system reorganize itself and begin to make sense of the outside world.
Fortunately, children with auditory processing disorders and Autism can find help through various techniques and technologies including a daily listening diet. By improving the auditory processing ability of a child with Autism, we can improve the way in which the child connects with his or her environment.