Speech audibility in multi-space classrooms

The SAILS Project, Speech Audibility in Learning Spaces, initiated by SoundSkills founder Dr Bill Keith, is developing technology and methods to measure audibility of teachers’ voices in classrooms. Many studies have assessed noise levels in learning environments but none have directly measured the actual audibility (signal to noise ratio) of teachers’ voices. The project required the development of new technology.

The Acoustics Research Centre at the University of Auckland developed the technology based on their acoustic Kiwi Tracker developed for Department of Conservation rangers to help them find Kiwi nests by recognising kiwi calls and calculating their direction and distance.

The new classroom technology has now been proven in a first study in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Dr Suzanne Purdy at the University of Auckland. It will be used in multiple studies of different learning spaces, activities, and voice types (gender, ethnicity). Student speech audibility will also be investigated since peer to peer learning is emphasised in current pedagogy in New Zealand. The results will inform classroom design and development of hearing technology products to assist students who struggle to hear clearly in school.

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Connecting APD services to tamariki in South Auckland

Audiologist Joanna Wallace was awarded a TSB GoodStuff! grant to trial a tele-audiology service to children in South Auckland suspected of having APD but unable to access specialist APD services. Resource Teachers for Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs) referred children, and acted as case coordinators and tele-audiology facilitators. Children were able to be assessed in school by an audiologist working remotely, and were connected to Ministry of Education Assistive Technology services for a remote microphone hearing aid system trial if eligible. The trial was successful and well-received.

Joanna Wallace is a specialist APD audiologist at SoundSkills APD Clinic. Karen Blackall, Education Adviser at SoundSkills, helped design the project. Thanks to Cluster 11 RTLBs Karen Eaton, David Livermore and Kieren Brand for making this project possible.

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Altered brain connectivity in children with auditory processing disorder

Professor Suzanne Purdy at the University of Auckland, PhD candidate Ashkan Alvand, and colleagues have recently published some of their work mapping brain connectivity in children with auditory processing disorder (APD). They used resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate functional brain network organisation in 28 children with APD, many recruited from the SoundSkills APD Clinic caseload, and 29 typically developing (TD) children. The findings show evidence of altered brain network organisation in children with APD, specific to auditory networks, and shed new light on the neural systems underlying hearing and listening difficulties in children. This study adds to the extensive research literature on physiological underpinnings of APD, showing differences in the auditory systems of children with APD from the pons at lower brainstem level up to the auditory cortex.

Alvand, A., Kuruvilla-Mathew, A., Kirk, I. J., Roberts, R. P., Pedersen, M., & Purdy, S. C. (2022). Altered brain network topology in children with auditory processing disorder: A resting-state multi-echo fMRI study. NeuroImage: Clinical, 35, 103139.

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Listen to a simulation of auditory processing disorder

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a general term for hearing disorders in which the ears process sound normally but the hearing centres and circuits of the brain don’t always process incoming information sufficiently quickly or accurately. APD is not detected by standard hearing tests. People with APD can hear but they sometimes have trouble understanding what they hear. APD is a prevalent and under-recognised hearing problem that is a major underlying cause of learning difficulties.

To listen to an audio simulation of APD click here, or go to www.soundskills.co.nz, and navigate to About APD/CAPD; APD in Children; How does it sound to have APD?

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Auditory processing definition disorder

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is an “umbrella” term covering a variety of central auditory processing deficits. APD is listed as a disorder in the WHO International Classification of Diseases, editions ICD10 and ICD11. However some academics promote an alternative terminology, “listening difficulties”. While less emphasis on a “disorder” label might be a good thing, “listening difficulties” unfairly suggests a lack of attention on the part of the person with APD.

In a recent international conference presentation SoundSkills audiologist Dr Bill Keith addressed controversies surrounding APD including the terminology debate. At SoundSkills we like the educational psychology and inclusive education approach of discussing strengths and weaknesses rather than “disorders” and favour a range of terminology options. We are accordingly reducing emphasis on the “disorder” term and making more use of auditory processing “weaknesses” or “difficulties”. Obviously at times the officially recognised term “APD” is necessary. As part of the conference presentation participants were polled on preferences. The majority favoured having a range of terms, but definitely not “listening difficulties”.

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Personal experiences of two adults with autism with low-gain hearing aids for auditory processing problems

Many people with autism experience auditory processing difficulties and research confirms that they benefit from the same treatments which help other people with auditory processing disorders. This personal testimony provides an illuminating insight into the experiences and benefits of hearing aid use to alleviate auditory processing difficulties.

Note: SoundSkills adheres to international protocols which require hearing aids to be fitted by an audiologist using “real ear” acoustic measurement methods to determine the actual sound levels in the user’s ears (that is, not remote hearing aid fitting by estimation and postal delivery). SoundSkills also follows research evidence in recommending accessory remote microphones with low-gain hearing aid fittings to provide enhanced audibility in situations where the background noise level or distance from the speaker are such that it is difficult for hearing aids alone to provide sufficient assistance.

Read article here

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APD features in Māori TV News item

Follow the story of seven year old Poi, whose learning difficulties were attributed by her school to her being bilingual in Te Reo and English, before she was found to have auditory processing disorder (APD). The news item discusses the prevalence of APD in Māori and Pasifika children and the lack of financial support for most children with APD. Following diagnosis, auditory and phonics training has resulted in a dramatic jump in Poi’s reading skills.

The news item can be viewed on Māori Television On Demand at the link below. It is the first item in the programme – Te Ao with Moana, Series 3, Episode 19.


A captioned version of this video is available on Facebook at this link. Go to the Settings wheel at bottom right to turn the captions on.

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Another Award for APD expert Professor Suzanne Purdy

Professor Suzanne Purdy was awarded the honour of Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. The award was for “services to audiology and communication science”. This comes shortly after receiving the International Award for Hearing from the American Academy of Audiology. Dr Purdy is an internationally recognised expert on auditory processing disorder (APD) and collaborates with SoundSkills on APD research. The press release accompanying the award read as follows.

Professor Suzanne Purdy, current Head of the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland, has had a distinguished career in the field of Audiology and Communication Science.

Professor Purdy’s four decades of research have impacted diagnostic and treatment practices in the areas of cochlear implants; hearing, auditory processing and language disorders in children and adults; and communication disorders in autism. She has helped instigate novel approaches to stroke and aphasia rehabilitation including Māori-led community initiatives, choral and public speaking therapies for neurological conditions, and sensory training for mild cognitive impairment. Her electrophysiology research at the National Acoustic Laboratories in Australia resulted in the development and routine adoption of a new objective hearing test for infants with hearing loss throughout Australia and New Zealand. She has contributed substantially to the development of the Audiology and Speech-language professions nationally through two professional degree programmes at the University of Auckland. She has been involved with the governance and management of numerous community organisations relating to speech and hearing disorders, including the National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Gavel Club, and the Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust. She is Deputy Co-director of the Eisdell Moore Centre for Hearing and Balance Research. Professor Purdy has chaired the International Evoked Response Audiometry Study Group since 2015.

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