Computer gaming improves hearing in children

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Computer games on a homework night spell trouble to many parents. But what if a computer game could really lift school marks?

Researchers at the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) have some great news: the first known treatment for a hearing problem affecting about 18,000 children in Australia – and it can be installed on a home computer.

The condition, Spatial Processing Disorder, makes it difficult for them to understand what people say when there is background noise – for example in the classroom. The cause is unknown, but it is common in children who had middle ear infections when they were younger, and its impact on learning can be profound.

Speaking at the NAL in Sydney today, Minister for Human Services Senator Kim Carr said the new treatment is turning that around.

“Every single child improved in initial trials of LiSN & Learn so that they were right back on par with their peers,” Senator Kim Carr said.

Eight-year old Cameron Youell is one of the first success stories. After his diagnosis in 2010, he was asked to play the LiSN & Learn computer game for the 12 weeks – 15 minutes a day, five days a week.

Now, Cameron can hear just as well as other children his age when there are surrounding sounds, meaning his schoolwork has improved.

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Senator Kim Carr said the world-leading research is crucial in helping understand why some children have more difficulty in school. “If children struggle to understand their teachers, it is incredibly hard to concentrate or remember what they’ve learnt,” Senator Kim Carr said.

“Nothing is more important than a fair go in education. This Australian breakthrough could open the doors for more of our best and brightest.”

Professor Harvey Dillon, Director of the NAL, said spatial processing helps us focus on one sound, while ignoring sounds coming from other directions.

“We first developed a test to diagnose SPD. This then led us to create LiSN & Learn. It works by introducing sounds that strengthen the brain’s pathways that combine the sounds picked up by both ears – it’s like exercise for the brain,” Professor Dillon said.

“In our research and clinical trials, 100 per cent of children who completed the training had no evidence of any problem remaining.”

Source: Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

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Date Created: October 12, 2012