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Auditory Processing – Beat competency and reading readiness

Reading is a key skill for life. In 2019, 27% of children at age 11 in the UK, did not meet the required standard for reading. In the USA, levels dropped in 2019 with only 34% of 13 & 14 year old children achieving proficient levels.

Quite naturally, many interventions for children with delayed reading development involve more reading. However, we need to look deeper than this to get to the root of many reading problems. The previous blogs regarding frequency and speech as well as volume, focussed upon the sensory aspects of developing strong auditory processing for good reading.

Another area that is important is timing and beat competency. This is being able to hear and copy a steady beat and is intricately linked to reading development. We need to understand that this is about listening to an external beat and copying it by tapping, clapping or marching in time. Beat competency is NOT about an internally generated beat. If you ask someone to simply think of a beat and clap, they may be able to do this easily. This is about copying a beat!

Thomson and Goswami (2008) amongst many other researchers have shown very clearly that the ability to keep to a beat is linked closely to language development, phonological awareness, reading and writing skills. Measurements can be taken at the level of the brainstem to measure how good any one is at beat competency. Those with poor timing in the brainstem are the ones who are delayed in reading, language and other areas.

Imagine trying to read or listen when your ‘timing is out’! It is no wonder that many with Dyslexia, Specific Language Impairment and other labels have challenges with beat and rhythm.

The exciting thing is that musical training as well as moving to a beat, have been shown to improve timing in the brainstem. Any activity that builds awareness of beat and practices keeping the beat can have an impact. It is no accident that nursery rhymes and many games for young children have a strong beat at the heart of the activity.

Many children with continuing challenges with beat as they grow older will have a label of Dyslexia or Dyspraxia amongst others or simply find reading, listening and attention a challenge. Is your child able to march or clap to a beat? If not, involving them in sports, music and movement activities can help. The difficulty may be that many children with beat competency problems will not really want to be involved in those types of activities. I work with many children who actively avoid them, and it is often argued that they simply do not like them. Mostly, the reason they do not like them is that they innately know they cannot do them as well as their peers.

Programmes such as The Movement Program, are specifically designed to build beat competency along with other developmental skills. Many programmes such as The Listening Program use music as a base and then enhance areas such as beat and rhythm with specific psychoacoustic techniques. These more therapeutic programmes can really help to improve beat competency in the brain stem. This feeds through into daily life with improvements in reading, listening, attention, writing and sports. If you think about it, virtually everything we do has a rhythm to it and improving it is fundamental to learning and life.

Alan Heath is the Director of Learning Solutions and International Representative for Advanced Brain Technologies. He is the co-developer of The Movement Program and TAVS (Test of Auditory and Visual Skills)

Thomson, J., and Goswami, U. (2008) Rhythmic processing in children with developmental dyslexia: Auditory and motor rhythms link to reading and spelling. Journal of Physiology – Paris, Vol 102. Pp 120-129.

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