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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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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Dyslexia and APD

Auditory processing, language, and reading impairment are neurologically entwined. There is considerable research across many domains confirming the hypothesis that disrupted timing of auditory processing is a core deficit in dyslexia.

There is substantial evidence that auditory processing deficits accompany dyslexia, and that there may be at least a partial causative relationship. It is hypothesised that the hearing deficits affect language development, and in turn reading. This brief summary of relevant research evidence is based on a book chapter by Burns (Martha) on “Auditory Processing Disorders and Literacy”.

Auditory processing, language, and reading impairment are neurologically entwined. Some researchers in literacy have begun studying the link between auditory processing disorders and reading problems in school-age children. Recent research has pointed to acoustic, memory, and language functions, including phonological components of language, as core components underlying reading disturbance.

There is considerable research supporting the hypothesis that the underlying core deficit of developmental dyslexia is a phonological processing deficit. But a major neuroscience hypothesis posits an auditory processing deficit at the core of the phonological processing impairment. This hypothesis contends that developmental dyslexia may be caused by a deficit in specific brain circuitry that processes rapidly changing auditory information. This ‘auditory temporal processing deficit hypothesis’ asserts that acquisition of oral language skills can be impaired by an inability to process rapid spectro-temporal characteristics of phonemes.

Many independent neuroscientific studies have corroborated the evidence that rapid auditory processing deficits are a component of reading disturbance. Electrophysiologic studies of children with language and reading problems revealed deficiencies in neural synchrony (timing deficits) in sub-cortical as well as cortical regions that process speech sounds that in turn were related to speech sound perception and measures of learning.

Tallal and colleagues hypothesise that disrupted timing of auditory processing, particularly in the range relevant to phonemes, is a primary deficit underlying dyslexia. Research by Goswami and colleagues has shown that impaired auditory sampling of slow acoustic events in speech may also be a causative effect in dyslexia.

Children with reading impairments also show deficits in speech in noise perception which, along with temporal discrimination problems, are predictive of reading deficit and language delay.

In summary, research across many domains is confirming the hypothesis that auditory processing factors including disrupted timing of auditory processing, particularly in the range relevant to phonemes, are a core deficit in dyslexia. Although the degree to which these disturbances are causative is still debated, the genetic, longitudinal, and electrophysiological studies are beginning to point at least to a partial causative relationship.

Specifically, it appears that rapid auditory processing, at cortical and subcortical levels, represents a core component of phonological awareness. Rapid auditory processing deficits are correlated with problems in phonological decoding of words. The emerging neurophysiological longitudinal evidence points to temporal auditory processing disorders as at least one salient causative factor in some children who continue on to develop language problems and, because of the relationship between language and reading, reading problems as well.

[Comment: There is also evidence that treating auditory processing deficits in children with dyslexia improves phonological awareness and supports treatment of the dyslexia.]

Burns, M, Auditory Processing Disorders and Literacy, Chapter 13, in Auditory Processing Disorders: Assessment, Management and Treatment, 2nd Edition, ed Geffner D and Ross-Swain D, Plural Publishing (2012), 301-317

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The Argument for Music Education

Musical experience early in life imparts lifelong neuroplasticity.

The argument for early music education takes three general forms. Music boosts brain and cognitive function important for learning, which in turn facilitates success in school. Music training improves educational outcomes, such as graduation rates. And there are also less tangible benefits of music education, such as improved focus, discipline, confidence and even friendships.


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A randomized control trial of interventions in school-aged children with auditory processing disorders

Auditory training, language and phonological therapies, and remote microphone hearing aid systems are beneficial for children with APD.

Sharma, M., Purdy, S. C., & Kelly, A. S. (2012). A randomized control trial of interventions in school-aged children with auditory processing disorders. International journal of audiology, 51(7), 506-518.


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Evidence of benefits following ARIA auditory training for children and adolescents diagnosed with amblyaudia

The purpose of this study (which included participants from SoundSkills APD Clinic) was to demonstrate the efficacy of Auditory Rehabilitation for Interaural Asymmetry (ARIA) to improve dichotic listening scores in children and adolescents diagnosed with amblyaudia and other binaural integration deficits.

Moncrieff, D., Keith, W., Abramson, M., & Swann, A. (2017). Evidence of binaural integration benefits following ARIA training for children and adolescents diagnosed with amblyaudia. International Journal of Audiology, 56(8), 580-588.


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Assistive and therapeutic effects of remote microphone hearing aid systems for children with auditory processing disorders

One of the most exciting research findings in the treatment of auditory processing disorder (APD) is the neuroplastic benefit of amplification. It is now well established that, over time, amplification with remote microphone hearing aid systems results in improvements in hearing skills of children with APD due to beneficial neuroplastic changes in the brain.

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