This is a PhD studentship being carried out by Shiran Koifman in the laboratory of Professor Stuart Rosen at University College London. The project started in October 2016 and will end in September 2019.
Auditory processing disorder (or APD) is a hearing or listening problem caused by the brain failing to process sound in the normal way. A person with APD has normal hearing when tested using standard tests, but will have problems understanding and making sense of sounds, especially complicated and fast-changing sounds like speech.
Children with APD can have problems that are noticeable from a very young age: they might find it difficult to respond to sounds, to understand things they're told, to concentrate, and to express themselves verbally. Their reading and spelling abilities may be affected.
APD is difficult to diagnose: there is no routine clinical test or definitive set of criteria. So it's highly likely that many children who do have auditory processing difficulties are not being identified and helped. Given that more and more children are being referred for APD assessment, this lack of understanding and diagnostic tools is a real concern to parents, teachers and clinicians.
Shiran is investigating and further developing some new diagnostic tests to see if they'd be useful in assessing APD. One set involves testing how well a child can understand speech against a background of noises that appear to be coming from different places. Most people can understand speech much better the further away an 'interfering' noise is from the talker, but this doesn't seem to be the case for some children suspected of having APD.
Shiran will also study how well children perceive interrupted speech, or speech that is alternated between the two ears – this test seems to reveal subtle problems in the way the brain processes sounds in people with auditory processing problems.
A better understanding of the nature of auditory processing disorder, as well as more efficient diagnostic tools, could have a big impact on clinical practice. Shiran's team hopes to provide straightforward tests that clinics will be using within the next five years.