Auditory Processing Disorder is a hearing disorder that affects 3-5% of school aged children. This is not hearing loss but a disorder that affects how the brain and hearing system coordinate. People who have Auditory Processing Disorder, APD, have a disruption between the hearing system and how the brain understands what is being heard.
Anyone can have APD, though symptoms usually start in childhood. If diagnosed with it as a child, APD is something you will live with the rest of your life. It is not life threatening, and with some extra work and treatment plan you can live a normal life. A person with APD would misunderstand someone saying, “What color is that couch?” for “What color is that cow?” This can cause trouble understanding and responding to sounds in the environment as well.
Symptoms of APD
Symptoms of APD range from mild to severe and what the symptoms actually are can vary from person to person. Auditory Processing Disorder can affect speech, reading, writing, spelling, as well as hearing. It can cause difficulty in communication with other people. APD can cause difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments where there may be a lot of background noise. A child with APD may respond frequently with “huh” or “what” after someone speaks to them.
The main symptom is misunderstanding what has been said. APD can cause there to be a long time to respond while in a conversation. There may be difficulty distinguishing similar sounds. APD can also cause difficulty concentrating or paying attention, trouble processing rapid speech or complex directions, and trouble learning or enjoying music.
APD can cause trouble following directions, knowing where sounds are coming from, listening to music, and remembering spoken instructions.
Children who are suspected to have APD aren’t usually tested until they are age 7. Making it be around the time of first grade. This is important because when hearing tests are done, the child needs to be able to respond appropriately which may not happen if the child is too young.
APD can be misdiagnosed for a number of other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, or dyslexia.
An audiologist will be able to do specific listening tests. The tests focus on a few different aspects. The first is Auditory figure ground, which is if your child has trouble understanding speech when there is a lot of background noise. Another aspect is auditory closure, which is the ability to fill in the gaps of speech. Someone with Auditory Processing Disorder may struggle with this. Dichotic listening is the ability to hear and distinguish two different people talking at the same time from opposite sides of the room. Or hearing two different things from two different speakers. Temporal processing which is the timing of a child’s processing system, and Binaural processing the ability to localize sounds in a room. All these things will be tested by an audiologist.
Other doctors may be used in the diagnosing process. A psychologist can assess cognitive functioning. A speech-language therapist can assess oral and written communication. A teacher can also help with their input and observations during school.
Causes of APD are not completely clear. Some causes could be genetics. Head injury or premature birth or low birth weight. Something happening closely after birth that causes a child to have to be put on oxygen. Chronic ear infections, meningitis, or lead poisoning may also cause APD.
There is no cure for Auditory Processing Disorder. Treatment is specific to each person and what they need to be successful.
Electronic devices can be used to help a child hear their teacher better. A common one is a frequency modulation system. The teacher would wear a tiny microphone that would go directly to the child’s headphones so they can hear them better as well as block out background noise. Teachers may also want the student to be at the front of the classroom where they are closest to them, as well as have their backs to most of the background noise and distractions.
Another treatment plan is to make other skills stronger, such as memory and problem solving.
Speech therapy can also be helpful in some cases.
Auditory training is another treatment plan. This may include identifying differences in sounds, determining where sound is coming from, and focusing on specific sounds in background noise.
Environmental changes can also be helpful. Putting rugs or having carpet in the house can help eliminate echoes, and extra sound of walking. Avoiding background noise from TVs, radios, or video games. Use visual aids when you can, this could be a chore chart, using calendars with visual symbols, and maintaining routines.
Speak slowly when able, not louder, just slower so your child has time to process what you are saying. A good example of this is Mr. Rogers. Have your child repeat back instructions to you to help them remember and make sure they understood you correctly.
Some children find watching TV or playing video games with closed captions is helpful too.
Auditory processing disorder is a condition that can affect many aspects of your child’s life. Early diagnosing and early treatment can be crucial in helping your child be successful. It can also help them learn tools that can help them overcome this disorder so they live a close to normal life.
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Misunderstanding what you hear? It may be Auditory Processing Disorder! #HealthSurgeon