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by Sally Brockett, M.S., Director, IDEA Training Center, Inc. North Haven, CT 06473

Two scenarios often present themselves in the practice of auditory integration training (AIT). One involves parents who ask if AIT might help their child who is struggling with reading. The child may read but not comprehend, or, may not be able to decode the words at all. In some cases, the child reads so slowly that all the required reading can not be completed. The second scenario involves the parent who pursues AIT in hopes of reducing their child's sound sensitivity, improving language and or socialization, with no consideration of the impact that it may have on the child's reading. This parent may report with surprise, that their child's reading also improved after the AIT. Both parents will want to understand how the AIT process, which impacts on listening skills, can affect the reading process. We need to examine certain aspects of the reading process in order to see this relationship.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) along with the U.S. Department of Education's office of Research and Improvement have been conducting and is one of many programs dedicated to understanding reading development and supporting research in reading for the past 3 years. Based on this cumulative work, much has been learned about how children learn to read and why some struggle with the process. Although there is still much to learn, this research provides important information that can be used to understand and help children develop proficient reading skills. It can also provide insight as to how auditory integration training (AIT) affects the reading process.

Reading requires the rapid decoding and comprehension of written words. In order to do this, children must be aware that spoken words are composed of small units of sound called phonemes. This is referred to as phoneme awareness. Phoneme awareness is not the same phonics. When phonemic awareness is evaluated, children are asked to demonstrate their knowledge of the sound structure of words without letters or written words present. (ie. "What would be left if the /p/ sound were taken away from pit?") Phonic skills are evaluated by determining the child's ability to link sounds (phonemes) with letters. The development of phonics skills depends on the development of phonemic awareness.

In order to read an alphabetic language such as English, children must know that written spellings systematically represent spoken sounds. When beginning readers can't correctly perceive the spoken sounds in words they will have difficulty sounding out or decoding unfamiliar words. For example, they must hear the /it/ sound in pit and fit and perceive that the difference is the first sound in order to decode these 2 words. This auditory perceptual problem will affect reading fluency, resulting in poor comprehension, and limiting reading enjoyment.

When we listen to spoken words (ie. bag) we do not perceive each unit of sound in the word (/b//a//g/). We perceive bag as an overlapping bundle of sound that seems to be a single unit rather than 3 distinct sounds. This facilitates the listening process and oral communication. Since the individual sounds (phonemes) within words are not consciously heard by the listener, no one receives natural practice in understanding that words are composed of smaller distinct sound units. Thus, the early stages of reading instruction must focus on phoneme awareness and phonics skills, and providing practice with these skills in text is critical.

Since readers have a limit on their attention span and memory, it is essential to develop fluency and automaticicity in decoding and word recognition. When decoding is laborious and inefficient, the reader cannot remember what he has read and bring meaning to the content.

There are additional components involved in the development of good readers. Good comprehension requires the reader to link the written ideas to their own experiences and to have the necessary vocabulary to make sense of the content. Good syntactick and grammatical skills and the ability to sequence also impact on reading development.

Given this understanding of reading development, it is easier to see how AIT can impact upon this skill. AIT often enhances listening skills and the ability to perceive sounds more accurately. This may enable the child to perceive the spoken sounds in words so phonemic awareness can develop and phonics can be taught. Thus the basic auditory perceptual skills involved in reading may be improved through AIT.

Many parents also comment on how AIT improves their child's listening comprehension. They understand spoken language better. This improvement in listening comprehension may also extend to the ability to listen to one's own inner language or thoughts, including the thoughts perceived through the process of reading.

The ability to sequence at many different levels impacts on reading and is affected by AIT. The child must be able to sequence the phonemes in words in order to sound out or decode new words. Words in sentences must be correctly sequenced in order to be meaningful and sentences within paragraphs must flow in an organized sequence. The sequence must be retained by the reader if the content is to be logical. When AIT enhances the child's ability to organize and sequence, it may help with this component of the reading process.

AIT practitioners should understand these relationships so they can respond to parents questions about the impact of AIT on their child's reading abilities.