The challenges of coping with an auditory processing disorder can be overwhelming. When it is hard to understand what others want you to do, working with a therapist on treatments can be frustrating. This article explains how balance is related to auditory processing disorder, and how engaging in balance exercises may be integrated into your treatment.
What is Auditory Processing Disorder?
Auditory processing disorder (APD) affects one’s ability to process information. People who have APD typically do not have hearing loss. The challenge lies in being able to understand and process spoken language. People with APD have difficulty interpreting and remembering what they hear. This often leads to problems both in school and at home.
APD causes challenges with: Understanding and following directions; Filtering out background noise; Distinguishing between sounds; Sequencing or ordering sounds; Speech or language delays Delayed reaction time.
Auditory processing is what happens between the ear and the brain. Someone with APD can hear perfectly well, the problem is interpreting what they hear. For example, I might hear you say, “Look, a car!” In order to understand that statement, I need to be able to access the area of my brain that knows what a “car” is. I need to understand that you are asking me to turn my visual attention (look) towards something. Finally, I need to interpret your tone of voice in order to determine if you are excited about a cool new car, or giving me a warning that I am in danger!
Another common problem with APD is being able to distinguish between different sounds. Someone who has APD might not be able to tell the difference between a “sh” sound and a “ch” sound. Therefore, they are not sure if they should “chop” or “shop”, or if you are referencing your “shin” or “chin”. It is believed that this is due to a distortion or delay of the signal between the ear and the brain.
Learn more about ADP:
How balance can help treat APD
APD is a processing problem that involves the brain, which is part of the central nervous system. The central nervous system is responsible for integrating and coordinating our entire bodies, including our sense of balance.
Balance refers to the ability to maintain and control one’s center of gravity. To do this, we use our vestibular system. The vestibular system provides the cues that our body uses to stay balanced. The vestibular system is made of three fluid filled pouches that are located in the inner ear. These pouches take sensory input from our ears and other organs and use this input to respond to movement and changes in our body position.
Auditory processing is hardwired into our balance system through our vestibular organs. When a person engages their sense of balance, the central nervous system activates a vast network of neurons that work together to keep them upright. These include neurons sending signals from the ears to the brain.
Balance activities are a powerful way to activate the auditory system and prepare for processing and learning. Doing these activities before another type of APD treatment can prime the brain to be even more responsive to treatment.
Try it at Home
Here are a few balance activities you can try at home:
Stand on one foot. Start by standing with one foot resting on a chair or a ball. When you can, take that support away and stand alone on one foot. Make it fun by timing yourself to see how long you can do it, or add more difficulty by doing something else while standing on one foot (catch a ball, count to 10, close your eyes).
Make a line on the ground and walk on it. Pretend it is a balance beam. It is more difficult the thinner you make the line.
Sit on an exercise ball. Try to keep your center of balance while seated on the ball. Try to pick up one or both feet off of the floor.
Play hopscotch. This fun childhood game involves hopping on one foot, and is great for developing balance.
Stand on a balance board. Balance boards are designed to work on balance, motor coordination, and strength. They usually contain a flat board or platform on a base that wobbles when you stand on it.
Find more ideas for working on balance here.
Check out these therapists that are currently using various balance therapies to help with APD and related conditions:
Turning on the Light is an organization that uses balance boards and other movement exercises to address learning and sensory integration issues. They explain how balance boards work here.
Balametrics provides trainings and products for parents and therapists, using balance as the primary component of therapy. To learn more, click here.
Balance therapy programs typically use a Belgau Balance Board, which allows for balance therapy to be performed at increasing levels of difficulty, and a Pendulum Ball, which stimulates the timing of brain processes.