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Children invited to take part in a new research study

Researchers at University College London (UCL) are investigating the effect of noisy listening environments on children’s ability to understand speech and would like to invite your child to take part.

By Katharina Zenke and Shiran Koifman at UCL

Trying to understand a speaker in a noisy environment with many other people speaking at the same time, such as in a classroom, can be a struggle for anyone. While many children are able to successfully cope in such challenging listening situations, some seem to have particular difficulties.

One such group of children is believed to have an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), showing difficulties in perceiving complex sounds despite having normal hearing. These listening difficulties can lead to further problems with literacy and language and hence to poor school performance. This can have a lasting negative impact on the child’s quality of life.

In our research, we are particularly interested in understanding why children with APD experience listening difficulties in noisy situations and how we can improve the diagnosis of APD.

Our research study

We are investigating different skills that seem to be relevant for listening in noise and which might be affected in children with APD. To do this, we have developed new listening tasks that are suitable to be used in the audiology clinic. In a series of studies, we are examining how useful these tests are, by comparing the performance of children diagnosed with APD to children without any listening difficulties.

By the end of the project we hope to have a better understanding of APD. Furthermore, we hope to make our diagnostic tools clinically available to help better diagnose APD in children in the near future.

Who can take part

We are looking for children who:

  • are aged 7-12 years
  • have English as their first (native) language
  • have no developmental disorder such as Dyslexia, ADHD, or DLD
  • have no listening difficulties (or alternatively have been diagnosed with APD).

What the study involves

Taking part in our study involves a single visit to our London-based lab, where we will test your child’s hearing and do different listening games with them. The visit lasts about 2.5 hours, including breaks. You will be reimbursed for your travel expenses (you and your child). Your child will be given a thank-you gift as well as a Young Scientist Certificate for his/her participation.

Find out more about the research study

Where and when it’s taking place

The study is open until early 2020 and is taking place in central London (just 5 minutes’ walk from King’s Cross St Pancras station) at the department of Speech, Hearing and Phonetic Sciences, UCL, located in Chandler House, 2 Wakefield Street, London WC1N 1PF.

Take part

If you and your child are interested in participating or want to know more about it, please fill out our informal interest form.

You can also contact us directly by email or phone:

Katharina Zenke
Office telephone number
02076 794041

Further information

What is APD?

APD is often detected once children enter primary school. Even though these children don’t have a hearing loss in the traditional sense, they have problems understanding a speaker in more difficult environments, for example if a teacher is talking in front of a noisy class.

Besides this difficulty in speech perception, they also struggle with other hearing processes such as to discriminate, localise and interpret sounds. These difficulties lead to higher listening effort, which can result in fatigue, short attention span and memory problems.

What is currently being done about APD?

Currently, APD is only diagnosed at a small number of specialist audiology clinics across the UK. APD in children is not curable and may be retained into adulthood. When a child is diagnosed with APD, an intervention plan with management strategies is put in place by the clinician. The plan mainly focuses on improving the child’s listening environment, for example by:

  • acoustic treatment of classrooms
  • use of remote microphone technologies (FM system)
  • placing the child near the teacher
  • teacher and speaker adaptations (e.g., speaking clearly, direct visual contact).

Other strategies may involve auditory training and developing coping strategies.

Why is APD research important?

Many aspects of APD are still very poorly understood. It is unclear what causes APD and whether it is heritable or acquired at a young age.

Often APD co-occurs with other developmental disorders, such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This makes it harder to give a valid diagnosis of APD since many tests currently used in the audiology clinic are influenced by language or cognitive skills.

There is a strong need for more research to improve the diagnosis of APD by developing tests that can distinguish it from other disorders. More research is also needed to develop better interventions and training programmes for children diagnosed with APD.

By conducting our research, we hope to have a positive impact on APD children’s learning and school performance.

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