If you or someone you know as an auditory processing disorder, chances are there are a lot of things about day-to-day life that come easily to others but present you with unique challenges. It is only fairly recently that enough has been understood about this disorder that children are being diagnosed and receiving the help they need. However, this recent surge in interest in APD has led to an increase in misunderstanding about this diagnosis.  Read on to find out more about this challenging condition.

What is an Auditory Processing Disorder?

An auditory processing disorder is a condition which affects around 5% of school-aged children and those who have it have difficulty understanding what is said to them because of a breakdown in communication between the ears and the brain. This breakdown causes problems which affect who the central nervous system processes auditory information.  It is not a matter of a child’s IQ or even of hearing loss, contrary to popular belief.  This problem with processing is especially noticeable when there is background noise in the environment and if it goes undetected, it can cause significant delays in speech and language, academic difficulties and can negatively impact a child’s social development.

How Do You Know if You Have an Auditory Processing Disorder?

Every child is different, but children who have an auditory processing disorder are likely to:

  • Be easily upset or disturbed in a noisy environment
  • Overreact to sudden and/or loud noises
  • Have difficulty solving word or math problems when given orally
  • Find it challenging to follow oral directions
  • Can be forgetful or easily distracted
  • Have difficulty with academic skills like spelling or writing (see also dysgraphia)
  • Find it hard to follow conversations
  • Have behavior problems
  • Behave better and seem calmer when in a quiet environment

What Causes Auditory Processing Disorders?

Unfortunately – and this can frustrate many kids and other families – doctors do not always know exactly why auditory processing disorders happen. In other kids, the reason can be something like a head injury, exposure to lead in the environment or chronic ear infections.

How is an Auditory Processing Disorder Diagnosed?

Parents – and kids – should be aware that only an audiologist (a hearing specialist) can diagnose an auditory processing disorder.  They will make this diagnosis based on extensive speech-language testing and will look for the following issues:

  • Auditory figure-ground problems, where the child has difficulty paying attention to directions or conversation when background noise is present
  • Auditory memory problems, where a child has difficulty remembering directions when they are given orally
  • Auditory discrimination problems, where a child finds it hard to distinguish between two words that sound alike, such as “cat” and “bat”.
  • Auditory cohesion problems, where a child has difficult with high-level language discrimination such as understanding riddles or inferences in language

It is also important to keep in mind that these tests cannot be performed until a child is at least 7-8 years of age due to the nature of the tests.

How is This Disorder Treated?

Once a diagnosis of auditory processing disorder is made, treatment can begin. This generally takes the form of:

  • Speech-language therapy, which can help improve a child’s skills with language discrimination and communication
  • Use of assistive devices called auditory trainers. One such device is a frequency modulator (FM), which consists of a transmitter, which is worn by the speaker (such as a teacher) and a receiver, which is worn by the child. This device can amplify the voice of the primary speaker while helping to tune down background noise, making it much easier for a child to hear what is going on in the classroom or other social situations.
  • Modifying the child’s environment, such as having a child sit at the front of the classroom
  • Auditory integration training, to help children retrain their auditory system
  • Auditory memory enhancement, or exercises to help children retain what has been spoken to them

What Can Be Done at Home for Those with Auditory Processing Disorders?

Apart from speech-language therapy and assistive devices, there are many things that parents can do at home to help children who have this disorder.  This can include:

  • Setting up a quiet spot for a child to do homework that is as free as possible from background noises or similar distractions
  • Promoting a peaceful, organized lifestyle at home
  • Reducing background noise at home to a minimum if possible
  • Making sure your child is looking at your directly when you talk to them or give directions
  • Asking your child to repeat directions back to you once you have given them to check for comprehension
  • Speaking more slowly and loudly than normal (without shouting or appearing to talk down to a child)
  • Helping a child write down notes or other memos about directions if they need to use them later (this can help jog their memory)

In short, while an auditory processing disorder can be challenging for both kids and grown-ups, it is fortunately easier to diagnose this problem than it has been in the past and with treatment, children can learn to work with – and around – the challenges that this problem presents and go on to lead full, happy and independent lives.