Sound May Key Learning Problems

A table setting with food prepared by executive Chef Suki Sugiura during a menu preview for the Golden Globes at the Beverly Hilton Hotel January 11, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
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Practicing spelling with her mother, 11-year-old Molly Durot stumbles over a word.

"You just forgot the 'N' in Mrs. Cuncle," Anne Durot gently tells her daughter.

Molly doesn't process sounds well, and she has struggled with reading and writing all of her life.

A growing body of research is linking the two problems, showing that a child's ability to process sound, and language, is directly related to his or her ability to learn. Those who have trouble with sound, like Molly, often develop learning disabilities, reports CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

"She can tell you, yeah, 'R' makes the 'rrrrr' sound," Anne Durot says of Molly. "But if you said the word 'storm' and then you asked her to spell it, she doesn't hear that 'R.'"

After subjecting Molly to a battery of tests and getting an unsatisfying diagnosis, Anne enrolled her in a research program at Northwestern University where they were looking into central auditory processing disorder (CAPD).

In the program, called the Listening, Learning and the Brain project, children watch movies and play listening games while highly sensitive equipment measures the brain's instantaneous response to speech sounds.

Molly is one of more than 600 children who have participated in the project, which confirmed what Molly and her family had suspected all along: she is hard-wired for learning problems. According to lead researcher Nina Kraus, it's something Molly can't help.

"There is in fact a biological basis for some learning problems in some children," says Professor Kraus, a neuroscientist at Northwestern.

It's estimated that as many as one-third of all children with learning disabilities have a hearing problem: not with their ears, but with their brains. That means everything from dyslexia to the current epidemic of attention deficit disorder could be linked to a child's inability to interpret sounds.

Finding the source of the problem leads many to believe some learning disabilities could be reversed.

"The brain is more flexible than we thought it was," says Dr. Larry Silver, president of the Learning Disabilities Association of America. "We now know that we can retrain the brain."

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