Auditory, Autism, Dyslexia

Dyslexics and autistic children oft exhibit a sensitivity to noise. Background noises can be painful at worst or simply distracting. Some people have found that listening to white noise (static) helps because it masks the background sounds, allowing the child to get on with the task in hand. This is not something that has been scientifically studied or proven but some people find it helps and I include myself in that list. I have a white noise track on my MP3 player and I occasionally tune the radio into static when the noise of others in the house is getting too much.

Now there is a very easy and simple white noise generator available on the web. Simply Noise does exactly what is says. It creates white noise and a simple slide control can adjust its intensity. Give it a try next time you or your child are working at your computer and see if it works for you.

Thanks to LifeHacker who also has information on more advanced White Noise generators.

ADD / ADHD, Auditory, Balance & Coordination, Dyslexia

Developing Intelligence has an interesting post about links between a person’s IQ and their reaction times.

Despite the fact that g [general intelligence] is commonly assessed with tests of vocabulary, memory for associations, reasoning ability on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices (where subjects must discover a visual pattern within a matrix of stimuli, and select what the next pattern in the sequence would look like), and a wide variety of other very abstract and untimed tests, it appears that the variance they share can be reliably and accurately indexed by reaction time on a task where subjects must merely press a lighted button. The correlations between such simple tasks and g is around .62, which is higher than the correlation between many subscales of IQ tests and the g factor to which they contribute.

The essence of the argument is that the faster you process information coming into the brain, the more information you have at your disposal, enabling better decision making. Imagine filling a bottle with water from a tap. How fast you can fill the bottle depends on how fast the water comes out of the tap and how wide the neck of the bottle is. If the tap is dripping slowly then the size of the bottleneck doesn’t matter. As the tap is opened wider a critical point is reached when the flow from the tap exceeds the capacity of the bottleneck. However if the bottleneck is widen then the bottle can continue to catch all the water coming out of the tap.

This analogy holds true for the cerebellum hypothesis of dyslexia and ADHD. A lot of sensory information comes into the cerebellum so if it is underdeveloped it acts as a bottleneck. Any sensory input that cannot be coped with will be discard rather than processed. So when an ADHD child doesn’t hear your instructions, it maybe because they ‘heard’ the sounds but they were discarded before the signals reached the conscious, processing parts of the brain.

At the risk of stretching the idea to breaking point, the same logic applies to a dyslexic’s problems with phonetics. In a simple word such as CAT, there are three sounds (C – A – T) that need to be processed in a very short space of time. If the bottleneck of the cerebellum is too small and the tap of the phonetic sounds is flowing fast, then some of these sounds will be lost. When learning to read this means the dyslexic has incomplete information available to them when trying to match the sounds they hear with the letters on the page.

There is research that indicates that people with ADHD or dyslexia have slower reaction times than the general population (see below). The cerebellum is one of the areas of the brain involved with making quick response so a poor reaction time is consistent with the idea that a weak or underdeveloped cerebellum is partly to blame.

Research: Mean response times, variability, and skew in the responding of ADHD children: a response time distributional approach.
Reaction time indices of attention deficits in boys with disruptive behavior disorders.

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Over the last few weeks this website has been attracting comments from various members and ex-members of staff of the Dore Achievement Centres. This has come to the attention of the CEO of UK branch, Bob Clarke, who has posted comments on Myomancy and also to Wynford Dore himself who has phoned me. Conversations with Wynford are always enjoyable but challenging because Wynford believes so passionately about what he does. So when Myomancy runs a negative story about the Dore Program he tends to forget all the places on Myomancy where I’ve said the Dore Program works and that it changes lives.

In light of all this I thought it wise to make a clear statement to all my readers about why I devote a considerable amount of time and money to running Myomancy.

  • The goal of Myomancy is to provide independent information on treatments for dyslexia, ADHD and autism so that parents and sufferers can make an informed choice about what is the best approach for them.
  • Myomancy is a blog, a personal web site. It represents my views and my views alone on all things connected with ADHD, dyslexia and Autism.
  • These views are researched and expressed on Myomancy to the best of my abilities but I am not a scientist, teacher or a professional writer. I am just someone who’s life was changed by the Dore Program and felt a need to express myself.
  • I believe in free speech which is why I allow anyone to post comments on the articles regardless of whether they are for or against my views. Only post that are illegal or purely offensive are removed.
  • Myomancy generates a small amount of income for advertising. I would like it to be more so that I can afford to spend more time on Myomancy. It is up to the reader to decide what, if any, impact that has on the independence of Myomancy.

With reference to the above I have removed one comment from the website that is highly critical of the Dore Program and, based on additional evidence I have at my disposal, is completely false.

Auditory

On Boing Boing they highlighting the case of a strange noise being heard by some people in New Zealand that sound experts are researching. This is reminiscent of the Bristol Hum which was investigated by British Gas after a person was driven to suicide by the noise. In the Bristol case many of the people effected had hearing problems but some had highly sensitive ears and were able to detect sound from up to 5 km away.
This just highlights the diverse range of hearing people can have. I wonder how many children in classrooms are disturbed by the humming of neon lights or the drone of the heating system’s pump that no one else can hear.

ADD / ADHD, Auditory, Dyslexia

Cognitive Daily have a very interesting post with examples of what babies hear. There are two samples of a baby’s name being called over background noise and the only difference between them is that the baby’s name is 5db louder in the first clip. In a study on babies they found that this 5db difference made a significant impact on whether the baby responded to their name being called.

In adults, the inability to hear properly when there is background noise is known as Cocktail Party Deafness. It has been linked to the sort of hearing deficits that found in dyslexics and ADHD. It is hard not to speculate that this sort of hearing problem is related to an underdeveloped or immature brain as many symptoms of dyslexia and ADHD are also indicative of underdevelopment.

Previous on Myomancy:
Cocktail Party Deafness
Small But Steady Progress on Cocktail Party Defaness
The Immature Brain

Auditory, Balance & Coordination, Dyslexia

From this press release:

Youngsters who can lick their lips, blow bubbles and pretend that a building block is a car are most likely to find learning language easy, according to a new study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Psychologists at Lancaster University, led by Dr Katie Alcock, found strong links between these movement, or motor and thinking, or cognitive, skills and children’s language abilities.

I’ve found a link to the original research on the ESRC’s site but it seems to be having problems so I haven’t been able to read it.
However if the press release is to be trusted its just one more piece of evidence that motor and coordination skills play a large role in skills that we have previously considered unconnected such as hearing and comprehending language.

Auditory, Dyslexia

I found an interesting new blog called Retrospectacle written by a PHD student studying the inner workings of the ear. As dyslexia has a strong hearing aspect to it I had a dig around and a couple of posts caught my eye.
The first pointed out a great education site about the ear called Promenade ’round the Cochlea. Lots of clear illustrations and descriptions about sound, the ear and the brain.
The second post is on how melanin gives black people better hearing. Apparently it improves the ability of the hairs in the inner to resist and recover from damage. This caused me to wonder if dyslexia rates are lower in black children than white children. A good dig around on Google failed to shed light on any differences in the rate of dyslexia based on ethnicity but its an interesting question.

Auditory

The interaction between sound and hearing is very complicated. If I tap on my desk once every second you will hear this as a rhythm. If I tap on my desk two hundred and fifty six times a second you will hear a music note, the middle C. I’m doing exactly the same thing, only faster, yet we experience completely different effects, either a rhythm or a musical note.

Researchers interested in this experimented on animals by disabling parts of their brains. They found that it is not the physical nature of the stimuli that effects what we hear but how the brain interprets it and that this process takes place at a relatively high cognitive level.

This is supported by the McGurk effect that demonstrates that what we hear can be influenced by what we see. For this to happen, hearing must take place in parts of the brain that combine multiple stimulus.

The implications this has for dyslexia, which has a strong auditory elements, are significant. If hearing is seen as a neurological activity then hearing can be learnt just like anything else. In phonic reading programmes such as the Cumbrian Modified Reading Intervention, this is what is happening. The pupil is learning to hear the difference between the sounds. It also possible that sound therapy (e.g. the Tomatis Method) may work by triggering a child’s auditory learning process.

The big question is then ‘What is the best way to teach people to hear?’. Certainly singing and other musical activities must work because they require the performer to hear themselves. However learning to sing is difficult as it involves coordinating multiple activities, e.g. reading the words of the song, listening to the backing track, controlling your vocal cords and the shape of your mouth. Such a complicated activity is a real challenge for a dyslexic.

A quick, passive system such as sound therapy where the child just has to sit still for twenty minutes a day for two weeks would be ideal. However its not proven that it works and if it does work, we don’t know why or how.

The teaching method must also be cheap and practicable. A system that involves expensive equipment or highly trained teachers is never going to reach the millions of children in our schools who need it.

If we can find an effective way to teach people to hear, we will go a long way to tackling dyslexia and the social and mental health problems that all to often follow it.

Abstract: Cortical and subcortical sides of auditory rhythms and pitches.

ADD / ADHD, Auditory, Current Affairs, Dyslexia

A report on the BBC yesterday suggested that about half of all parents with Learning Difficulties (LD) had their children taken in care by social services. This caught my attention for a couple of reasons. Firstly they did not identify the nature of the learning difficulties so presumably included people with dyslexia. Secondly if the figure is true then there needs to be a lot more support given to the parents or social services and the courts need to understand more about the capabilities of adults with learning problems.
After some digging I’ve found the original report. Find the Right Support [ PDF ] is well written and thoughtful 100 plus page examination of the needs of parents with learning difficulties. It is aimed at midwifes, social workers and related agencies and gives guidance on the the identification of parents with LD and the problems they may have dealing with social services. The report, like the BBC, makes no differentiation between the different types of disability bit it does make clear that intelligence, the ability to read and the ability to be a good parent are not directly connected.
The 50% figure quoted in all the news reports is used in the report but its source was actually a study done in 2005 for the NHS. Adults with Learning Difficulties in England 2003/2004 is a big study (over 9MB for the full version). Right at the beginning of the full report it says
We have decided to use ‘learning difficulties’ rather than ‘learning disabilities’ because these are the words that the people themselves said they prefer. It was used throughout the research. In this report we talk about ‘people with learning difficulties’, meaning people who since they were a child had a real difficulty in learning many things. We do not mean people who just have a specific difficulty in learning, for example, people who only have difficulty with reading which is sometimes called dyslexia.
Further on in the report they clarify things further
…we asked people whether they themselves had ‘learning disabilities’ or whether someone they lived with or supported had ‘learning disabilities’. Because we just asked people, we realised that we might end up interviewing some people who did not have learning disabilities as such, but who may have other difficulties (e.g., dyslexia). We decided to exclude people if they had been awarded a GCSE at grade C or above, an O level, an A level, a degree or HND qualification.
So the study was looking adults with severe problems or at least severely let down by the education system. Presumably this would capture large numbers of autistic people but not the majority of dyslexics.
Two and half thousand adults (16+) with learning difficulties or their carers were interviewed for the study. The results are, as you may expect, depressing.

Two thirds of people with LD who want to and are able to work are unemployed

Adults with LD are more likely to no contact with friends or family

Only one in three voted in the 2001 general election compared to 73% of non-LD adults

Half of all adults with LD are still living with their parents

On caring for children the report says:
One in fifteen of the people we interviewed (7%) had children. Of the people who had children, just over half (52%) looked after their children. Women were slightly more likely to be a parent than men (9% compared to 6%). But men and women were just as likely to be looking after their children if they had any (52% of women, 53% of men).
It is worth noting that the report doesn’t say who is looking after the children that are not with their parents. Nor is there any indication if the parents are unhappy with this arrangement.