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Auditory process disorder (APD) is a condition that impacts how the brain uses what it hears to understand what someone is saying. It’s most common in young children. But I will stress that adults can have it too!
It is important to emphasize that APD is an auditory deficit that is not the result of other higher-order cognitive, language, or related disorder.
What causes an Auditory Processing Disorder?
With APD, the brain and hearing aren’t working together as they should. Ultimately, something is interfering with how the signal transfers from the inner ear to the brain. This can change how a child hears all sounds. But you might become aware of it as a parent because your child struggles to understand what you’re saying, especially in a noisy environment. To a child or adult with APD, a clear message can seem distorted or missing important information.
It is important to emphasize that APD is not a hearing problem. And it’s not a cognitive or language disorder. I am always so sad to see someone get misdiagnosed and not get the help they need. As an audiologist, I frequently work with children and adults with APD. Ruling out hearing loss and then testing specifically for APD are vital to getting the right diagnosis.
Common Signs And Symptoms Of An Auditory Processing Disorder
- Difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments
- Following directions
- Discriminating (or telling the difference between) similar speech sounds
- Sometimes they may behave as if a hearing loss is present, often asking for repetition or clarification.
- In school, children with APD may have difficulty with spelling, reading, and understanding information presented verbally in the classroom.
- Often their performance in classes that don’t rely heavily on listening is much better
- They typically are able to complete a task independently once they know what is expected of them
However, it is critical to understand that these same types of symptoms may be apparent in children who do not exhibit APD. Therefore, we should always keep in mind that not all language and learning problems are due to APD, and all cases of APD do not lead to language and learning problems. APD cannot be diagnosed from a symptoms checklist. No matter how many symptoms of APD a child may have, only careful and accurate diagnostics can determine the underlying cause.
A Teacher Or Doctor Suggested My Child Might Have An Auditory Processing Disorder
A multidisciplinary team approach is critical to fully assess and understand the cluster of problems exhibited by children with APD. Thus, a teacher or educational diagnostician may shed light on academic difficulties; a psychologist may evaluate cognitive functioning in a variety of different areas; a speech-language pathologist may investigate written and oral language, speech, and related capabilities; and so forth. Some of these professionals may actually use test tools that incorporate the terms “auditory processing” or “auditory perception” in their evaluation, and may even suggest that a child exhibits an “auditory processing disorder.”
It is important to know that, however valuable the information from the multidisciplinary team is in understanding the child’s overall areas of strength and weakness, none of the test tools used by these professionals are diagnostic tools for APD, and the actual diagnosis of APD must be made by an audiologist.
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Getting APD Diagnosed
To diagnose APD, the audiologist will administer a series of tests in a sound-treated room. These tests require listeners to attend to a variety of signals and to respond to them via repetition, pushing a button, or in some other way. Other tests that measure the auditory system’s physiologic responses to sound may also be administered. Most of the tests of APD require that a child be at least 7 years of age because the variability in brain function is so marked in younger children that test interpretation may not be possible. APD screening can be performed with children as young as 5 years of age.
Can APD be treated?
Yes. Once a diagnosis of APD is made, the nature of the disorder is determined. There are many types of auditory processing deficits and, because each child is an individual, APD may manifest itself in a variety of ways.
It is important to understand that there is not one, cure-all method of treating APD. Treatment of APD generally focuses on three primary areas: changing the learning or communication environment, recruiting higher-order skills to help compensate for the disorder, and remediation of the auditory deficit itself.
- APD is an auditory disorder that is not the result of higher-order, more global deficit such as autism, mental retardation, attention deficits, or similar impairments.
- Not all learning, language, and communication deficits are due to APD.
- No matter how many symptoms of APD a child has, only careful and accurate diagnosis can determine if APD is, indeed, present.
- Although a multidisciplinary team approach is important in fully understanding the cluster of problems associated with APD, the diagnosis of APD can only be made by an audiologist.
- Treatment of APD is highly individualized. There is no one treatment approach that is appropriate for all children with APD
Is auditory processing disorder a form of ADHD?
No. These are two very different diagnoses. ADHD is a medical condition that results in a child having different brain activity than most children. This leads to impulsive behavior that makes it hard for a child to concentrate or sit still for any length of time.
Does auditory processing disorder get worse with age?
It can. Children who have APD can become adults with APD. Although they may learn to compensate for it to some extent. This may explain why studies show that APD is more common the younger a child is. Children with APD often improve as they approach adulthood, but this may be due to learning to live with it. I would caution parents not to wait and see. A child suffering from APD will struggle in school, which could lead to lifelong consequences. This is not something you might hope they grow out of.
Is APD a learning disability?
No. A child with APD may be misdiagnosed with a learning disability. But most children with APD do not have the cognitive challenges we usually consider a learning disability. Most do not need to be in a special education classroom. Children with APD can, however, benefit from an individualized education program (IEP) through the Greater Memphis School Districts. This can give your child access to learning tools and strategies they may not have otherwise.
Are you born with auditory processing disorder?
We don’t know what causes some children to develop APD or if they are born with it. Because every child goes through developmental stages, early screening for APD can’t be done until 5 years old. For this reason, we don’t know yet when it happens or why.
What age can you test for auditory processing disorder?
I can complete an Auditory Processing Disorder screening for a child as young as 5. However, most tests require that a child be at least 7 years old. This age requirement is due to children going through developmental stages.
Who can diagnose APD?
Audiologists can diagnose APD and rule out hearing problems. They will run tests to determine the type of APD to develop an individualized treatment plan for the child or adult.
How do I know if my child has a processing disorder?
The only way to know for sure is to see an audiologist who can test your child and give a formal diagnosis. As a parent, you can look for signs that your child needs to come to see me to determine if they have APD, hearing problems, or something else.
Some of the signs of an Auditory Processing Disorder in children include:
- Trouble understanding when there is background noise
- Anger and frustration because they don’t understand
- Not following basic instructions the first time but then they show they can do it when you explain it again
- Confusing certain sounds
- Asking you to repeat or claiming they don’t understand
- May also have trouble with reading, spelling, and verbal instructions in class.
- May learn better from teachers who use more visuals, body language, and hand gestures that allow the child to “fill in the blanks” with their higher-level thinking skills