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APD & Learning Difficulties

Relationship between APD & Learning Difficulties

Learning disabilities (LD) usually present as poor academic performance sometimes coupled with a struggle in relating to peers. What is not often considered is the possibility of auditory processing difficulties, which can affect a number of areas. It is important to identify if this is the case, as children with learning difficulties can be labelled as incompetent or lazy when there is actually a neurological basis to their problem.

Characteristics of children with learning disabilities

Children with LD can present with a number of different areas of difficulty. It is interesting to note how similar many of these are to those listed for Auditory Processing Disorder. Some of the weaknesses for children with LD include:
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  • Attention (distractibility, impulsivity, speed before accuracy)
  • Auditory processing (trouble with phonological or speech discrimination, poor screening)
  • Receptive language (can’t follow oral directions, poor vocabulary)
  • Reading (sound sequencing, word recognition, comprehension)
  • Written language (handwriting, spelling, sentence and text structure)
  • Gross motor coordination (clumsy, off balance, frequently falls)
  • Fine motor coordination (trouble with small objects, precise movements, pencil grip)
  • Spatial awareness (easily lost or disoriented)
  • Directions (can’t interpret up/down, left/right, compass points)
  • Time awareness (problems with sequenced events, deadlines, time limits)
  • Visual perception (writing letters reversed, poor focussing, poor shape discrimination)
  • Memory (forgetting recent information, poor auditory sequencing)
  • Metacognition (inability to use appropriate learning strategies)
  • Maturity (acts younger than real age)
  • Opposites (can’t distinguish between black/white, in/out, light/heavy)
  • Social cues (misunderstands facial expressions, body language, tone of voice).

The nature of learning difficulties

Learning depends on an interaction between innate natural intelligence and how well specific brain functions can be accessed. If either of the two is below average, learning difficulties may arise. Because different types of learning rely on different brain functions, learning difficulties vary from person to person depending on their particular weakness. Some children with learning difficulties may actually have APD as well – a difficulty in using auditory information to progress with the act of learning.

The right and left hemispheres seem to be responsible for different functions although they are connected by millions of nerve fibres. The right hemisphere, or Gestalt centre, is concerned with creativity, spatial awareness, memory and intuitive emotional knowledge. The left hemisphere, or Logic centre, is associated with logical thinking, sequencing, reasoning, language and mathematics. A small percentage of people actually have their language functions located in the right side of their brain – these people are often left-handed as well. This is why it makes more sense to refer to the function centres as Logic and Gestalt independently of their location in the brain.

Very few tasks, if any, only rely on one hemisphere – both work together and complement each other. Good learning involves effective integration of and communication between the hemispheres, and auditory processing is often one of the first steps in the learning procedure.

Types of learning disabilities

The type of learning disability in an individual depends on which part of the brain is not functioning at its optimal level. If the Gestalt centre is having trouble being accessed (Logic preference), this may result in dyslexia. If the Logic centre is having trouble being accessed (Gestalt preference), this may lead to a child developing Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If there is a problem in accessing both centres, a number of serious learning issues will be present. It is also possible for both centres to be well accessed but badly integrated which results in good performance of only those tasks that rely heavily on one centre. The older a child becomes, the more the two parts of the brain need each other.