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Learning disorders to be examined in major study

8 December 2004

Common cause of learning disorders to be examined in major study

A major study is about to begin at The University of Auckland to find ways to help children suffering from a common but difficult to diagnose cause of learning difficulties.

Dr Andrea Kelly from the Audiology section of the School of Population Health says auditory processing disorders (APD), when the ears hear but the brain does not process the signals well, is a frequent cause of speech and language problems, reading difficulties and dyslexia in children. It is also often found in children with attention deficit disorders.

Dr Kelly and her colleagues Drs Suzanne Purdy and Mridula Sharma from Speech Science in the Department of Psychology are undertaking the study in order to improve diagnosis of the disorder and identify ways to help children overcome its effects.

Most of what is done now focuses on managing children with APD by improving their learning environment, Dr Kelly says.

"For many of these children today's noisy classrooms are the worst possible learning environment - they have difficulty listening when there is lots of background noise.

"But in this study we hope to find the most effective interventions to help children learn to overcome the disorder.

Children with APD usually have normal intelligence and normal hearing, Dr Kelly says. However they have trouble understanding and following instructions, and struggle with their language and speech development, and reading.

Dr Kelly says overseas studies have shown the condition affects around three per cent of the population and it is more likely to affect boys than girls.

Middle ear problems such as recurrent ear infections or glue ear appear to be one of the causes of the condition. Children with very low birth weights also appear to be more likely to have APD.

In Auckland around four children a week are tested at both Starship's audiology department and the National Audiology Centre for APD.

However APD is often not immediately considered and tested for in children with learning difficulties.

"Children are often 10 or 12 years old before the problem is diagnosed - that is a lot of lost learning," Dr Kelly says.

A seminar for health professionals and educators to raise awareness of the condition, and explain the latest research findings on diagnosis and interventions of the disorder is being held at the Oticon Foundation Hearing Education Centre at the School of Population Health in Tamaki this weekend.

"Children with learning difficulties can be seen by a wide range of professionals - speech and language therapists, reading tutors, audiologists, psychologists or paediatricians. We need to encourage them to always consider APD as a possible factor in the children they see," Dr Kelly says.

Dr Purdy and Dr Kelly will announce details of their study at the seminar, which is being held on Saturday December 11. They will be seeking around 100 children to participate in the study.


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