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How APD and Autism Are Linked

We now generally understand that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by impairments in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication.  But did you know that Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) and autism often appear together? Research continues to uncover more about the physiological and neurological causes and predictors of this disorder. Formal diagnosis still occurs only through clinical assessment and behavioral observations starting around the age of 2 and continues up until a child has reached school age.

Why Autism and Language Delays Often Go Together

Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used magnetoencephalography (MEG) imaging to detect magnetic fields in the brain and  found that children with autism process sound and language a fraction of a second slower than children without ASD. This describes an auditory processing deficit or delay that is now being considered as a reliable biomarker for autism – it’s that common, the most reliably present cognitive skill delay present in children with autism.

“This delayed response suggests that the auditory system may be slower to develop and mature in children with ASD,” according to study leader Timothy P.L. Roberts, PhD, vice chair of Radiology Research.

This study was updated in 2015 with similar results.  “If it takes longer to process very basic auditory information like tones, this delay is going to become more prominent when you’re trying to encode more complex information like words and sentences,” according to   J. Christopher Edgar, associate professor of radiology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “So this delay starts to build up, and everything starts to be delayed when you’re dealing with complicated linguistic information.”

Auditory Processing – Why is it Important?

This is an exciting new understanding about APD and autism. It creates a way to isolate a key source of difficulty in children with autism, the auditory processing delay, and to treat it separately.

Auditory processing is a fundamental cognitive skill because it determines language mastery, the gateway to reading and learning. Children whose language processing skills do not mature and develop are at risk for difficulties in:

  • Learning – listening accuracy and comprehension
  • Reading – a language skill
  • Social Interaction
  • Thinking – a language skill

Delays in auditory processing also impede development of working memory, attention skills and higher level thinking and learning. Furthermore, for children with auditory processing difficulties reading comprehension is almost always a challenge. If letter sounds are not clear, reading can’t be automatic. It will require constant concentration and extra effort.

Children on the spectrum often have hypersensitive auditory processing disorder as well.  This is a hypersensitivity to background noise and is another factor that impacts learning. A child’s intolerance to sound that usual noises creates disrupts the learning routine in a way that over time adds up.

The bottom line:  Any child with ASD has some level of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD).  By treating the APD, it is possible to reduce the symptoms of ASD overall.

New Statistics on Autism

According to the latest government statistics, 1 in 40 children in the US has been diagnosed with autism. The new finding, published in Pediatrics, is from one of three periodic surveys the government uses to assess autism rates.  Some believe the revised statistic means that more children are born with autism, others believe it comes down to better or wider diagnosis.

Either way, that’s about 1.8 million children on the spectrum.

No Cures, But Ways to Work on Symptoms

Gemm Learning uses Fast ForWord to help accelerate auditory development to boost reading and learning delays associated with autism.

It is an adaptive program that makes language processing more efficient and automatic so that the student can observe and think while listening, the key to high level comprehension.  Each exercise in the series targets one or more cognitive and reading skills.  Exercise content vary from auditory pattern recognition and sound discrimination early on, to spelling and reading comprehension later.

New Version of Fast ForWord Makes It Easier To Start

A new version of Fast ForWord, released in 2019, uses a highly adaptive, intelligent back-end engine that detects when a student is struggling. With smarter, more focused interventions personalized to each learner, the program can be continuously improved for better student outcomes.

As a result, our students are finding it easier to get started using Foundations.  You can read about some of our success stories working with students who have APD and autism.

If your ASD child has tried Fast ForWord in the past, but was not able to get beyond the starting level, it might be worth a revisit. We are seeing far fewer children stuck at the first level.

Suggestions For Non Verbal

For those who present with significant language delays or are nonverbal, The Listening Program (TLP) or AIT (Auditory Integration Training) can help stimulate auditory senses.  Some children, particularly younger children under 6 years of age, who might struggle with Fast ForWord, come to Gemm Learning after doing TLP or AIT and do well.

There are many strategies available to help the overall well being of children on the spectrum.  As Dr. Susan Levy, a developmental pediatrician at the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia points out, “It’s important to find providers you’re comfortable with, who are not promising quick fixes — there are no quick fixes for a family with a diagnosis of autism.”

Yes, that’s true, there are no quick fixes.  But it is also true that if you can break a large challenge down into a number of smaller, more manageable challenges, more progress is likely.  That’s the opportunity treating the APD associated with autism presents.

If you think your child has APD and autism and you are interested in seeing if we can help, tell us about your child here.

Related Links

Does your child have APD?  Learn more here