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mental health, well that's unexpected

Rap Music Helped Him Understand Other Music (and What is APD)

Heading out during that window when breakfast time has ended, yet it wasn’t quite lunch, my handsome eating companion attempted to explain to me why he didn’t like Michael Jackson music growing up. And how hip hop/rap music changed his life. Listening silently my thoughts lean towards, well he can’t be the only one who dually, and almost exclusively, loves rap and classical music.

“I was introduced to rap music in college. Before that I couldn’t comprehend the words in songs.”

Huh? That’s more like a rap description.

“So let me get this straight,” I ventured in for clarification. It’s only when he begins describing what it was like for him growing up listening to his sister blare her favorite artist, the King of Pop,  that I better grasp what he’s saying. Imagine if you turned on the radio and every time someone sang their voice sounded like they were a teacher in a Charlie Brown special.

That’s what it sounded like to him. It was frustrating to him because it was as though his ears would temporarily stop working. But it wasn’t his ears doing something different, it was his brain.

There are a variety of disorders that affect the way the brain processes auditory information, and they’re difficult to detect and diagnose.

“What the brain does with what the ear hears.”

(Katz, 92 Source here.)

He had just described what the umbrella terms APD: Auditory Processing Disorder, and CAPD: Central Auditory Processing Disorder, define.

Research into APD began in 1954 via the Helmser Myklebust study. Then later in the later 70’s and early 80’s more in-depth research began.

 “Myklebust’s work suggested that auditory processing disorder is separate from language learning difficulties.”

Our ears pick up the sounds we hear and direct them to our auditory system. It’s the processing there that dictates our comprehension.

Those with APD typically have a normal peripheral hearing structure. They can hear. But they don’t process information the same way. Their brain essentially flips the switch without warning, and on occasion, changes direction, goes a different route, and leads to difficulties in recognizing and interpreting sounds. Sounds as in speech.

Cause? Persons with known neurological disorders, or diseases, such as aphasia, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, stroke, tumor, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis often exhibit APD. The majority of the time it’s unknown. It can be developmental or acquired. It has been concluded that APD is associated with dysfunction within the central auditory nervous system (CANS). A commonness of an APD presence isn’t uniform, but it generally occurrs in two distinct populations: children and elderly.

“Hearing begins in utero, but the central auditory system continues to develop for at least the first decade.”

For children, an estimated 2-3% are affected, give or take the many children un/misdiagnosed. Older adult estimates are 10-20%; and for individuals over 60 years it’s on average 70%. The most consist similarity has been the high prevalence of men verses women with a presence of the disorder.

(Wikipedia provides more links to instances when APD has been related to a cause.)

Over the years, for three key reasons, APD has been deemed somewhat controversial because professionals haven’t always accepted or approved of recognizing APD as a “unique functional deficit”.

1. Other types of disorders, ADHD, language impairment, learning disability, autistic spectrum disorders, and reduced intellectual function, may produce similar behaviors. These auditory deficits are many times diagnosed as a function of another deficit.

Look at what the symptoms are:

Exhibiting one or more of the following signs:

  1. They appear hearing impaired, but in fact have normal hearing sensitivity.
  2. They say ”huh” or ”what” a lot, and often ask the speaker to repeat.
  3. They experience difficulties hearing in the presence of noise.
  4. They respond inconsistently or inappropriately to auditory information.
  5. They take longer to respond when participating in oral communication situations.
  6. They have trouble following oral directions or instructions.
  7. They experience difficulties with phonics and speech sound discrimination.
  8. They are often unable to locate where sounds are coming from.
  9. They cannot remember information presented auditorally.
  10. They are unable to concentrate, or stay on task, and are easily distracted.
  11. They have difficulty directing, sustaining, or dividing attention.
  12. They have chronic otitis media, or a history of chronic otitis media.
  13. They exhibit poor reading and spelling skills.
  14. They are poorly organized.
  15. They are unable to learn songs or nursery rhymes, and have poor music and singing skills.

2. Audiologic assessment (testing for) procedures have not always adequately differentiated APD from other disorders. (That’s confusing)

3. Other factors including motivation, attention, cooperation, and understanding, are all factors that may affect test interpretation and so lead to misdiagnosis of a related disorder.

Skepticism is on the decline as “the development of reliable and valid behavioral and electrophysiological assessment procedures has legitimized APD as a recognized auditory deficit.” (source here)

Still, this auditory disorder plays itself out in an assortment of different ways depending on the person. Keeping it a particularly curious disorder.

For example, the term ‘auditory overload’ is often used to describe what happens to people with APD. An overload in a sense of being overwhelmed by received auditory information. “If information is highly specific, spoken quickly, lacking in contextual cues, described in unfamiliar language or presented in a noisy environment, it will be very difficult for someone with APD to comprehend the message or follow through with instructions.” (source here)

But going back to my brunch companion, it was different for him. To him when words were presented in a lyrical structure with different tones and the addition of musical accompaniment, that was when his brain became, “confused,” and his pathways redirected. He officially has never been diagnosed, and his symptoms were only present in his inability to interpret songs. Still he appears to be in alignment with a form of APD.

What makes this disorder particularly interesting can be found in its various forms of treatment. Much of the time it’s treated with specific music. Music based auditory stimulation. Or listening programs.

Examples of a few such worldwide programs are:

These programs, “literally exercise and tone tiny muscles in the ear and help them build stronger multisensory pathways in the brain. The brain receives this especially rich auditory stimulation and the ability to process sounds improves.”

Professor Nina Kraus explains this musical therapy concept well. She is a world expert in the study of activity in the brainstem. Her niche is studying auditory brain stem responses (ABR ) to speech and non-speech (including musical) sounds. When presented with sound the brain stem responds by producing an electrical signal that maintains the characteristics of the stimulus sound wave.

“Timing, pitch and timbre are the basic information-bearing elements in music and speech. The auditory brainstem response represents a faithful reconstruction of these features and can be recorded in a non-invasive manner in human participants”

In her measuring of ABR’s, a systematic and reliable difference is indicated between the normal listener, and the non. Those with a present lower phonemic awareness (phonological awareness as in the ability to recognize, understand and use the sounds that make up language) and auditory working memory showed slower ABR responses. “Their ABRs have good representation of the basic attributes of sound waves (i.e. the fundamental frequency) but poor representation of the more complex elements (i.e. the harmonics). These complex parts of the wave are more important for disambiguating sounds like consonants in spoken language.”

Music training is a way of strengthening a basic brain mechanism that contributes to the understanding of language. Kraus’ findings are proving to be paving the way for music intervention’s continual development. In ways that will also benefit and assist poor readers develop their skills as well.

More information about Nina Kraus’ research can be found here: http://www.soc.northwestern.edu/brainvolts/

In the specific case of the man I presented to you at the start of this article, he appears to have inadvertently found help in exercising and strengthening his ear muscles though the complex structure of rap music! Or as he says,

“The more I listened to rap, the more I begun being able to hear and understand the words in other music.”

He has a soft spot for rap music, and for his own entirely unique reason!

To read another case of what life is like first hand from someone with a form of auditory processing disorder, I HIGHLY recommend checking out the blog Andrea’s Buzzing About. She frequently writes about APD and many of her readers share in.


About maggie.

Maggie Barnes is a nonprofit and for profit business content specialist / social media consultant; and social sciences web writer interested in everything from psychology and sexuality, to technology, race, and economics. She is passionate about good communication and information accessibility.


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