Though I no longer consider myself dyslexic, a combination of occasional hearing problems, sensitivity to light and curiosity drove me down to London to take a full assessment at The Sound Learning Centre. As their name implies, the Centre uses sound therapy to treat children and adults with various learning problems. As well as sound they use light therapy and exercise programmess focusing on primitive reflexes. For more details of the treatments available, see The Sound Learning Centre Open Day.
On arrival I was immediately reminded of the friendly and relaxed nature of the staff that I had encountered on my previous visit to their open day. Pauline Allen, who runs the Centre with her husband Phil, handles the assessment process and the first part is filling out a number of questionnaires. A nice touch that showed the Centre are as used to adult clients as they are to children is that Pauline checked that I was happy filling in forms. I’ve been to a number of events run for dyslexics where the organisers hadn’t considered that dyslexics might not be comfortable with or even able to fill in a form. The questionnaires are geared up to being filled in by the parents as they collect information about the pregnancy, birth and early development of the patient. Not something the average adult can answer about themselves but this doesn’t matter to the assessment as much of this data is collected for research and background information.
Once the form filling was completed the main examination took place and a large part of this was taken up with a full pure tone audiogram. This is a hearing test where the patient wears a set of headphones and a pure tone, which is a sound of only one frequency, is played into one of the ears. The patient indicates if they can hear the sound or not. By varying the frequency and the volume (measured in decibels) it is possible to map out what the patient can and cannot hear.
Research by Dr Guy Berard, developer of the Auditory Integration Training (AIT) approach, has shown that many problems such as dyslexia and aspects of autism can be attributed to hearing problems. Hearing is measured in decibels (dB) ranging from -10dB to 100dB where 30dB is a whispered conversation and 120dB being a very loud rock concert. Damage to hearing can occur at volumes of 90dB or more. The quietest noise the average person will be able to hear is in the range 0 to 20dB across all frequencies. Some people have very sensitive hearing and might be able to hear sounds down to -10dB. Because of the way the decibel scale works, a noise at one decibel is not 1/40th as loud as a noise at 40 decibels, its one 10,000th. (Look here for more technical details and some good example sounds) .
What is observed in many people with problems is that they are hyper (over) or hypo (under) sensitive to some frequencies of sounds but may still be within the normal limits. This means that a doctor will describe their hearing as being normal yet they may have difficulty hearing certain sounds or be overwhelmed by other noises. This can lead to ‘cocktail party deafness’ where a low background noise at certain frequencies can make it very hard to hear what is being said by the person in front of you. Another problem that can occur with hypersensitive hearing is noises that to everyone else are perfectly acceptable are painfully loud. These problems can have a profound effect on a child’s ability to cope in a noisy classroom. Either distracting them or making them misbehave out of frustration and pain.
My results showed that in my right ear, my hearing ranges from 30dB to -10dB whereas in the left ear I have a more normal range of 0dB to 20dB but it shows more variation than average. The significance of this is notable when you cross compare my hearing chart to the frequencies used in normal speech patterns. The ‘TH’ and ‘F’ sounds are in the 4000 – 8000 Hertz range, a range in which my hearing dips to 20dB or above. I have always had a problem with these sounds. For information on speech and hearing have a look at this excellent article on hdhearing.com). How sensitive I was to the effect of cocktail party deafness, something I’ve always been aware of, was made very obvious when, halfway through the test, Pauline switched off the heating system and retested my hearing. I immediately showed a significant improvement as the low hum of the central heating pump had been preventing me from hearing other noises.
The next part of the testing was a pitch selectivity test where two tones are played and you have to say whether the first or the second was higher. This is repeated a number of times. In this I got 100% right which is unusual for someone who has such poor hearing at certain frequencies.
The final audio test was the Wepman Auditory Discrimination Test. For this, Pauline stood behind me and read out pairs of words and I had to identify if they were the same word or different words. The words and their pairing are carefully selected to identify if the listener can tell the difference between two similar sounds. In this test I showed a 20% error rate which indicates a fair degree of sound confusion.
Next stage was to test for cross lateral problems where a mismatch of hand / eye / ear / foot dominance can cause problems. (For more details, see The Dominance Factor: How Knowing Your Dominant Eye, Ear, Brain, Hand and Foot Can Improve Your Learning by Dr Carla Hannaford). I was generally right biased (i.e. right handed, right eyed etc) except on the ear test where I had a mixed dominance.
The visual field tests were next. This involves looking close up at the centre of a special chart whilst a coloured pointer is moved from the edge to the centre. How soon you see the pointer indicates the size of your peripheral vision. By repeating the test with different colours and from different angles it is possible to map out the scope of the visual field. In my left eye I recorded a response between 3 and 12 degrees and in my right between 1 and 11 degrees. This is a restricted field of vision. This was followed by a test for visual perceptual difficulties. In this Pauline asked me to read aloud from a book whilst different coloured overlays were placed over it. I’ve had this test before when being tested for coloured lenses. As expected the smoothness of reading improved when I switched to a red tint similar to the colour in my reading glasses. What was a surprise was that when a purple was used, it got even better. This is indicative that my eyes are light sensitive but also that the nature of the sensitivity had changed other the last three or so years since I was tested for my glasses. This may be a direct result of having worn my tinted glasses for long periods over the last few years.
The final tests were for retained primitive reflexes (See INPP One Day Training Course for more details) and involved balance and crawling tests.
After all the tests were completed we sat and chatted about the various treatments available. This came down to a ten day audio treatment that has to be done at the Centre, a light based treatment at the Centre or a light based treatment taking about month but which is home-based. Time and money prevent me from pursuing the audio based treatment at the moment but I’ve agreed to take on the home-based light therapy.
The whole experience takes about three hours and it costs £350. A couple of days after the assessment I received a full written report that not only gave my results but explained what they meant and further discussed what treatments are available. I found the experience worthwhile, especially the audio aspects of it. I had always wondered why I found some environments too noisy when other people can happily hold conversations with ease.