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By Sally Brockett, M.S., Educational Consultant

Printed in The Sound Connection, a quarterly publication of the Society for Auditory Intervention Techniques, Vol. 6, No. 4. Edited by Sally Brockett.

The recent shift in the FDA policy regarding auditory integration training (AIT) devices requires that practitioners and parents understand the procedure as a component of the educational process. Rather than asking whether it is covered by health insurance (which generally implies a medically related service), we need to direct our attention to helping parents, school staff and administrators recognize the important relationships between AIT and learning.

There can be a variety of causes that contribute to learning difficulties and each must be considered when working with children who are struggling in school. However, one that is of prime importance, and is often overlooked, is the children's ability to listen. By listen, we are referring to the desire to pick up the message and actively, correctly, and quickly, interpret the meaning. The first step of listening depends upon the ability to hear, or receive the sounds. This is a passive process. With a small number of exceptions, most children with learning difficulties have hearing abilities within the normal range. They are not hearing impaired and do not require hearing aides. In fact, a surprisingly large number of these children actually hear with great acuity. So much so that their ability to listen is compromised by the fact that they hear too much, and can not easily tune in to the target message.

One way to recognize the relationship between listening and success in school is to understand the connection between listening, reading and spelling. As children learn to read, they must coordinate recognizing letters and their associated sounds. The written symbols only represent sounds, and the actual meaning appears as the readers express the sounds, either internally or externally, as words. In order to achieve this, the audio-visual-verbal coordination must be perfectly timed.

When children slowly and laboriously decode a word or series of words, they lose the meaning and simply name words, but can not understand the message. Fluent readers, who easily coordinate the temporal and spatial aspects of analyzing and synthesizing the information, will quickly and accurately comprehend the message intended by the written symbols. Reading and writing difficulties occur when groups of sounds are not perceived accurately and rapidly, in other words, when children have a problem with listening.

Spelling is another area that poses difficulties for many children who have listening problems. It requires many of the skills used in reading, however could be viewed as the reverse process. Writers start by choosing the word they wish to spell, analyzing the sounds within the word and selecting the associated letters that make the sounds. Just as with reading, this process involves listening to the sounds, either voiced internally, or externally, but also includes visualizing the letters in the proper spatial sequence.

AIT is a procedure that trains children to listen more accurately. Dynamic music with a wide range of frequencies is processed through an electronic system in the AIT device. The volume and tone of the melody are constantly and randomly modulated, but the rhythm and phrasing are unchanged. Specific filters may be used to reduce the intensity of selected frequencies. This auditory stimulus activates the listening abilities, which then open up to the whole sound spectrum in a coordinated and efficient manner. Children who are learning to read and write will integrate verbal and written messages more easily. Self-confidence will grow as the children become competent learners.

As children develop efficient listening abilities, it will be reflected in other educationally related areas as well. Verbal directions given by teachers will be understood more easily and rapidly, allowing the children to respond without further questions. Children, who appear to be more cooperative and obedient, may actually be more able to comprehend what they have been asked to do. It is difficult to cooperate if you don't understand the directions.

Efficient listening skills will also impact on the consistency of children's work performance. Children with learning difficulties often demonstrate extreme fluctuations in the quality of their work, from high quality to poor. These variations may arise due to the level of fatigue at the time the work is done. Poor listening abilities mean that the children must work much harder than typical children in order to interpret their world. It would be similar to constantly translating a foreign language! The listener becomes tired and may "tune out" for a while in order to rest. Efficient listeners know what the speaker is saying as he says it, without having to think about it.

Children with good listening abilities also have an advantage socially. They will not be overwhelmed by the sounds of the social environment. Many socially isolated individuals withdraw due to the problems created by their inability to focus on the conversation and tune out background noises. They may also withdraw due to their inability to quickly understand the conversation and be an active participant. Their sensory system may be overloaded, causing anxiety and stress that may only be relieved by seeking a less stimulating and confusing environment. When listening skills are trained to be efficient, the children often demonstrate more appropriate social relationships.

These examples illustrate the important connection between success in school and optimal listening abilities. AIT practitioners need to understand and focus on this aspect of the training procedure in order to facilitate the development of AIT as an educationally related service.