Does your child pass his physical hearing exams, yet still seems to have trouble hearing and understanding you? He may have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). A child with this condition will have otherwise functional hearing, but be unable to properly process and interpret the sounds that are being heard. Read on to learn more about this condition. Find out whether it might apply to your child.
1. Auditory Processing Disorder: What is it?
Let’s think of listening as a multi-step process. First, your ears take in the information in the form of sound. Your brain processes the information that’s taken in and determines what meaning to assign to those sounds, if any. Part of that processing involves filtering sounds that are unimportant or meaningless from those that require additional processing. And, if the sounds are words or language, the brain assigns the appropriate meaning to those words.
Errors can occur at different points in the process. The ears could fail to take in the information (a hearing problem). The brain could lack the ability to assign meanings due to cognitive difficulties. Or, something could go awry when the brain processes the sounds that it hears and tries to assign meaning. The brain may have the cognitive ability to assign meaning, but something doesn’t translate correctly. It’s the latter misstep that could be an auditory processing disorder.
Overall estimates for the occurrence of APD vary from 2% to 7%. But, for kids flagged for potential learning disorders, a much higher occurs. It’s approximately 40%. Kids who have APD are often also diagnosed with something else as well. For instance, about 25% of kids tested for learning differences were diagnosed with both APD and Dyslexia. You will also find many kids diagnosed with both APD and ADHD.
Some disagreement exists as to whether APD should be considered an official disorder. At this time, it does not have an official diagnosis in the DSM-5.
2. Signs and Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder
Some common signs and symptoms of a child with APD:
- Taking longer to respond in verbal communications
- Frequent requests for repetitions, or often saying “What?” and “Huh?”
- Failing to respond to oral questions or instructions, or responding in ways that don’t make sense
- Processing thoughts and ideas slowly and struggles to explain them
- Often mistakes similar-sounding words
- Trouble learning nursery rhymes and songs
- Often finds background sounds/noises distracting
- Difficulty following multi-step or complex oral instructions
- Struggles following along when people speak quickly
Auditory Processing Disorder and Dyslexia
APD and Dyslexia are two distinct conditions. But they often occur at the same time in the same child. And, there’s lots of overlap between the symptoms seen in both conditions. You can often find charts setting out a side-by-side comparison of the two conditions. Such as this one from Understood.org and this one from learningally.org.
Strikingly, both conditions share the following key symptoms:
- difficulty with reading comprehension
- struggles with spelling
- difficulty with rhyming
But, these are some key distinctions:
- a child with APD may find it easier to understand stories that she reads rather than stories read aloud, but a child with dyslexia may find it easier to understand stories read aloud rather than stories that she reads.
- a child with APD may have difficulty responding to spoken questions or following oral instructions.
- an APD child may have difficulty tuning out background noises
- difficulty with understanding and remembering information presented orally
- requires additional time to process verbal information
Auditory Processing Disorder and ADHD
Striking similarities also exist between APD and ADHD. Children experiencing either condition will often have poor listening skills. And, they have difficulty understanding and remembering information that’s presented orally. Both types of kids will also often have problems carrying out multi-step directions. They also often require more time to process information.
3. How To Diagnose Auditory Processing Disorder
APD can co-occur with other disorders such as Dyslexia or ADHD and shares similar symptoms. When attempting to diagnose the condition, a variety of professionals may be involved in the process. However, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), only a professional audiologist can actually diagnose APD.
More specific tests for CAPD include:
- Checking the hearing ability in the presence of various background noises
- Testing for sound patterns recognition and the ability to differentiate between two similar kinds of sounds
- Tests to detect small changes in sound and compared with results of similar-aged children
- Measuring the brain’s response to various audio instructions.
- Other standardized speech and language tests
If you take your child to an audiologist for testing, you can expect him to administer a battery of different tests over several hours.
4. How Is Auditory Processing Disorder Treated?
Commonly used interventions for APD:
- speech and language therapy – training to improve their skills at distinguishing sounds, remembering sounds, and sequencing sounds.
- assistitive listening technology – such as speech to text software
- computer programs – “brain training” programs designed to build skills in identifying sounds and remembering auditory information
Doctors typically don’t prescribe medication to treat APD. But, people who are also diagnosed with ADHD and receive ADHD medication may also experience significant improvement in their auditory issues.
5. Auditory Processing Disorder: Long-Term Prospects
As with other learning differences, Auditory Processing Disorder generally cannot be fully cured. But, you can minimize its effects through interventions. Some experts believe that some children will see improvement in this condition as their auditory pathways mature over time. (However, adopting a “wait and see” approach as the sole strategy can lead to detrimental effects on self esteem and current learning abilities.)