A study conducted by the University of Sydney states that children who have learning problems in school are unable to switch their listening attention to another speaker, hence, they tend to lose track of the conversation.
The objective of the research was to find the reason why some students lag in studies despite having normal hearing, said co- author of the study, associate professor Simon Carlile.
Thirty-six participants were divided in three groups; 12 adults, 12 children with no learning problems and 12 kids with listening difficulties in noisy environments, but no diagnosis of a hearing disorder or other attention disorder.
“A wide battery of clinical tests indicated that children who complained of listening difficulties had otherwise normal hearing sensitivity and auditory processing skills,” Professor Simon said.
The study showed that these children were significantly slower to switch their attention compared to other students of their age.
“A deficit in the ability to switch attention across multiple talkers now provides the basis for this otherwise hidden listening disability, especially in noisy environments involving multiple talkers, such as classrooms. What we have done is provide a tool to diagnose a particular symptom that indicates an underlying problem that has been undiagnosed to date,” informed Professor Simon.
According to co-author, Dr Mridula Sharma, a senior lecturer and audiologist at Macquarie University, the research had answered a very puzzling problem.
“Children had been brought to audiologists by either their parents or teachers, who had done a whole heap of tests on them, only to not be able to diagnose the problem.”
She said before the study was conducted, only a third of the children presented at the audiology clinic at the university underwent diagnosis with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD).
“But two thirds of these children were being sent back home without a diagnosis on what the problem was. We knew there was something there; we just hadn’t worked out the right question to ask. We now have a real handle on what the problem is.”
However, associate professor Carlile said that although some attention disorders like ADHD can be cured with medications, it’s not clear whether the same technique can be used for the children with learning problems.
“We are now working on developing a simple clinical test to diagnose this differential hearing condition, and aim to make it available to audiologists,” he added.