Auditory dyslexia: Is this possible?

Ever said “pasghetti” as a kid rather than “spaghetti”? Imagine that your brain couldn’t process the word “spaghetti” when it hears it and instead can only produce the sounds for “pasghetti”. This is an example of auditory dyslexia. What is auditory dyslexia? What is the difference between auditory dyslexia and auditory processing disorder? What are the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment for it? How does it affect the brain? How can one learn with or teach to someone with auditory dyslexia?

Auditory Dyslexia
Auditory dyslexia is a difficulty processing sounds, not difficulty hearing sounds 

What is auditory dyslexia?

Auditory dyslexia, also referred to as Dysphonetic dyslexia, is a condition where the brain has a hard time trying to process basic sounds of language… a concept referred to as phonemic awareness. It’s important to keep in mind and not to confuse that auditory dyslexia is a difficulty processing sounds, not difficulty hearing sounds. It’s not a disability, but simply an inability.

The brain of someone with auditory dyslexia will sometimes fuse together multiple sounds into one big one. For example, the word “back” won’t be heard as /b/-/a/-/k/, but rather as one sound together. Sounds can also be jumbled together or reversed such as “spaghetti” turns into “pasghetti” or “commercial” becomes “kershmal”. That said, it’s important to keep note that if a child says “pasghetti”, it doesn’t mean that the child has auditory dyslexia. Children often struggle with new words and mash and mix them for a while until they get the hang of multi-syllable words.

Difference between auditory dyslexia and auditory processing disorder

Auditory dyslexia is a condition in which there is difficulty in processing language that can affect speaking, spelling, and writing. A child with auditory dyslexia will struggle with reading, written words, and spoken sounds. People often have lower self-esteem with this condition. Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a condition that makes it difficult to process the sounds that the ears hear such as recognizing the difference between, for example, “steep” and “sleep”. A child with APD can be severely sensitive to noise but may be better at understanding written things rather than when they are spoken. People with this condition often seen anti-social or odd because they focus so hard on trying to understand what’s being said that they may miss social cues or sarcasm. Overall, both of these conditions stem from a similar inability to process language well within the brain.

Symptoms of auditory dyslexia

Although there won’t be two dyslexics with the same exact symptoms, there are some common signs and symptoms of auditory dyslexia which are:

  • Avoiding reading aloud
  • Having trouble rhyming
  • Having trouble understanding what others say
  • Having an easier time understanding things when heard rather than read.
  • Having issues with spelling such as reversing letters (“d” and “b”), confusing the order of letters (“because” becomes “becuase”) or leaving out letters completely.
  • Having trouble with reading in general
  • Having a weak auditory memory (remembering something that was said in the past)
  • Having issues un-clumping different sounds. Such as, “lmnop” in the alphabet becomes one long sound, almost word-like, rather than separated letters.
  • Having trouble sounding out words correctly- especially written words.

Causes of auditory dyslexia

Like with all types of dyslexia, auditory dyslexia comes from a problem with decoding words and, in this case, manipulating the basic and fundamental sounds of languages. There can also be a multitude of causes for this condition. However, it’s thought that it stems from other conditions such as issues with an ability to focus, genes, and simple biology.

All that said, one study took a look at the common characteristics shared between people with auditory processing inabilities and found that everyone had high levels of language, reading, and attention problems. The study also stated that kids that are diagnosed with APD or auditory dyslexia are more likely to have a broader neurodevelopmental disorder. The study suggested that it would be beneficial to get an evaluation by a multidisciplinary team.

Another study found that adults with auditory dyslexia have similar psychological characteristics to each other, but that there is no significant connection between the condition and specific psychological characteristics.

Auditory Dyslexia
Auditory Dyslexia

How does auditory dyslexia affect the brain

Sound is simply the vibration of little air molecules that our eardrums are sensitive to. Most everyone can hear the same (more or less) sounds. However, when the vibrations (sound) goes through the eardrum and reach the brain, the real heavy lifting starts. The brain takes that vibration and turns it into something meaningful- something we can “hear”. When the sound vibrations reach a brain with auditory dyslexia, the sound arrives to the brain as it would anyone else, but the brain takes that sound and processes it less accurately and slightly different than a “regular” brain would.

To break it down a little further, someone hears a word, for example, “cat”. The sound and vibrations of “cat” enter the ear and are turned into signals that are transmitted from the inner ear to the deeper structures in the brain. After, these signals move into the auditory cortex, a different part of the brain, where they then travel to other parts of the cortex that are in charge of higher level functions, for instance understanding the meaning from hearing the word, sounds, and vibrations that are “cat”.

Diagnosis of auditory dyslexia

In order to diagnose auditory dyslexia, especially in a child, one must be referred to an audiologist who will evaluate the patient using a variety of tests. For example, a test may contain a variety of simple auditory sounds such as clicks, tones, and noise bursts while also containing a complex sound such as speech. Once the tests are done and the information is gathered by the family, school, etc., the audiologist can then proceed to diagnose auditory dyslexia or auditory processing disorder.

Auditory Dyslexia
Auditory Dyslexia

Treatment and prognosis for auditory dyslexia

Considering that there is no one-size-fits-all, 100% accurate cure for auditory dyslexia, there are options to better the prognosis. That said, they can be treatable with lots of hard work. One study found that the brain can actually train itself not to be dyslexic! The brain’s ability to synchronize with intonation and tone of voice can influence how the brain processes language. The study looked at several neuro-scientific studies that happened over years and found that these studies show that the auditory regions of the brain actually sync with external auditory stimuli. Sounds complicated? To break that down further, the brain can adjust naturally the frequency of its brain waves using the rhythm of what it hears and listens to at each moment.

Often, people with auditory dyslexia use therapy, classroom support, and strengthening other areas to help their treatment.

  • Therapy. Using speech therapy can help one’s brain begin to recognize sounds and improve overall conversational abilities. Speech therapy also offers reading support that can help hone in on specific trouble areas, too. Parents can even use some speech therapy tricks at home to help their kids get better!
  • Classroom support. Using electronic devices, such as an FM system (frequency modulation system), can help a child hear the teacher better and clearer. Perhaps sitting towards the front of the class with fewer distractions or background noise can also help improve hearing and processing ability.
  • Strengthening other skills such as problem-solving, memory, and others can help a child improve their skills that sometimes auditory dyslexia gets in the way of.
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Learning with auditory dyslexia

Learning is a strategic process that involves many different aspects to come together perfectly to work well. Just like with learning to walk, the process must be taken one step, literally, at a time before a child can learn to run. Or, think of learning like a latter. You can’t climb a latter without going one rung at a time. If you miss one of the rungs or trip while trying to run while you’re still learning to walk, you’ll fall. The same idea applies to learning. If one misses out on an important step in the learning process or in the material, it will be impossible to continue without falling down some more and getting left behind.

If you watch a basketball practice, you’ll quickly notice that the coach actually spends the majority of the practice drilling in the basic skills rather than advanced tricks. There can’t be a house if there is no foundation, right? Knowing the basics/foundation of anything is essential to learning more about it.

Like learning the numbers and how to count before learning how to add and subtract, it’s essential to properly learn the letters and all of their possible sounds before learning to form words. If a child has auditory dyslexia and they learn the letters with the rest of the students who don’t have auditory dyslexia, they will fall behind because their brains need more time building the basis and foundation of auditory/oral language than other students.

The best thing to do when learning with auditory dyslexia is to learn the basics and understand that you cannot learn too slow– always take your time and repeat.

Auditory dyslexia
Auditory dyslexia

Teaching strategies for auditory dyslexia

Teaching isn’t easy, little on when the student has a problem processing the material correctly. However, there are a few ways one can help teach students with auditory dyslexia and ensure the student learns.

  • Instruction should be intensive and individual. English has 44 different sounds and combinations of sounds that stem from the 28 written letters. Like with regular dyslexia and reading problems, repetition can help develop the listening/processing skills better. Instruction should be tailored to specific needs. Small groups are okay, but one-on-one instruction is more recommended.
  • Teach phonemes (sounds) specifically and explicitly. When a student is dyslexic, they need to be in a learning program that teaches the specific phonemes of a language before jumping into the deep end of sentences and paragraphs. It’s important to teach the student the ability to discriminate and tell the difference between sounds and their ability to reproduce them which can sometimes involve teaching a student about where to place their tongue or lips to form a specific sound or word.
  • Use multi-sensory methods. When someone can’t see, their other senses become more pronounced. It’s the same way with auditory dyslexia. The body has a sensory deficit and tries to make up for it. In order to teach someone with auditory dyslexia, it’s important not just to focus on oral or auditory senses, but all of the senses. Visual, kinesthetic (movement), and touch are helpful teaching strategies for an auditory dyslexic student. For example, touching or seeing the letters or even physically moving around letters as the student hears the letter and reproduces the sound. This helps with the theory of repetition being key to dyslexic learning.
  • Ensure that there are accommodations in the classroom and at home. Having a quiet workspace to study or learn can help the brain process only the necessary sounds. For instance, it’s easier for the brain to properly process sounds when there isn’t honking, people yelling, or the TV as background noise. Giving simple instructions, one task at a time, for example, can also be useful. This eases up the pressure on the brain to process a lot at one time. Speak while making eye contact, using assistive technology (speech-to-text and text-to-speech), and using positive reinforcement and encouragement are all recommended in the classroom and at home.

Have you ever dealt with auditory dyslexia? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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