What is Temporal Processing?
An essential skill in Auditory Processing is Temporal Processing – the rate at which we can process auditory information. A person must be able to process auditory information at a rapid pace in order to develop appropriate listening and language skills. Audiologists have recognized this in people with sensori-neural hearing loss for a long time, and have referred to this concept as the “temporal window”. We know that if a person’s “temporal window” is too large, that is, the time period required to process sound is too long; it becomes more difficult for them to understand speech. Any brief change in the speech signal then becomes difficult to perceive and the communication is distorted.
If someone is walking by a very small window, you will see him or her for just a brief period of time. In order to recognize them, you will have to be very quick in your skill. If you are not so quick, you will need a longer window; that is, you will need more time to figure out whom that person is that you saw.
You can see slow auditory processing in the child who is asked a question, and he sits there and looks at you and takes quite a while to respond, or maybe he says “What” or “Huh” and you repeat the question. Then finally he answers. He may not be saying “What” because he didn’t hear you, (and that makes you really mad because you know he heard it!). He may need you to repeat it again because he needs that extra time for the first statement to process in his mind before he can come out with an answer.
In fact, researchers have discovered that many language and learning disabilities may be due to a split-second delay in the brain’s ability to process input from certain senses. Dr. Paula Tallal, of Rutgers University, first reported in the 1980’s that “the data are overwhelming now that learning disorders are neither visual nor phonic.” Studies reported that there are “Structural brain differences in areas involved in the rapid processing of hearing, vision and touch in affected people, and that people with these speech and learning disorders require 300 milliseconds to process basic speech sounds, where normal processing takes about 25 milliseconds.” Tallal said, “Dyslexia is at root not a visual or ordinary hearing problem, as many have thought, but a flaw in a specific brain circuit that handles rapidly flowing auditory information.” She added that neurological tests show affected children are normal in all aspects of the brain except sensory processing.
This critical work by Dr. Paula Tallal and later collaboration with other researchers, Dr. Michael Merzenich, Dr. William Jenkins, and Dr. Steve Miller, led to the development of Fast ForWord. Fast ForWord products are computerized language learning programs that help children rapidly build oral language comprehension and other critical skills necessary for improved communication and reading. They are based on the concept that Temporal Processing deficits are an essential difficulty in APD and on the concept of Neural Plasticity – that the brain can learn new processes through repeated intensive practice.