When a child has an auditory processing disorder, he has difficulty processing the information he takes in through his auditory (hearing) system. In other words, children who have auditory processing disorders have difficulty making sense of what they hear.
The term “auditory processing” can be a confusing one at first, though. It’s easy to make the assumption that children with auditory processing disorders can’t hear the sounds that are coming their way. This isn’t true. Children who are diagnosed with auditory processing disorders are actually able to hear sounds just fine- there is nothing wrong with the way that their ears work.
But when the sound reaches their brain, something gets a bit fuzzy. We’re not exactly sure what goes wrong, but we do know that children who have auditory processing disorders have difficulty hearing subtle differences in sounds, accurately telling where the sound is coming from, and processing language quickly—especially in noisy and distracting environments.
Signs and Symptoms
A child who has an auditory processing disorder may demonstrate a number of behaviors. Many of these behaviors are also seen in other disorders, such as ADD, ADHD, and PDD. For that reason, it is very important to note that, upon observing any of the following signs in a child, we cannot just assume a child has an auditory processing disorder. Instead, if the following behaviors are observed in your little one, careful testing will need to be completed to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. That being said, a child with an auditory processing disorder…
- May ask for repetition of what you say often–you may notice him saying “what?” or “huh?” frequently.
- May not like being read to by others.
- May not respond right away when spoken to by others.
- May be easily distracted, especially in noisy environments, because he has a hard time blocking out background noise.
- May have a hard time following more than one direction at a time, especially in noisy places such as a grocery store, a restaurant, or a daycare.
- May have difficulty listening to and following directions in group settings such as school.
- May be overwhelmed or even frightened in noisy environments.
- May have a hard time remembering things.
- May have a hard time hearing the difference between words that are very similar, such as “cat” and “cap.”
- May have difficultly using spoken language.
- May have difficulty with pre-literacy skills such as phonemic awareness (knowing what a certain letter sounds like) and rhyming.
- May struggle with language-related school tasks, such as spelling, vocabulary, reading, and writing.
- May get tired easily due to the energy and concentration required to sort through the sounds that are coming his way.
- May struggle with behavior and/or self-esteem due to the frustration of not being able to meet the expectations of others.
The diagnosis of an auditory processing disorder is made by an audiologist with specialized knowledge of auditory processing. Although an auditory processing disorder can be suspected at younger ages, children are most easily diagnosed after the age of seven. To make the diagnosis, an audiologist will first make sure that the child does not have a hearing loss. Then, the audiologist will have a child participate in a variety of tasks that require him to listen to sounds, words, and sentences and respond in different ways. A child’s performance on these tasks can help an audiologist determine if a child has a true auditory processing disorder. The audiologist might also use some tests that can determine just how the child’s brain responds to auditory information.
Other professionals may play a role in diagnosis as well. Speech-language therapists can administer language testing to carefully assess a child’s use and understanding of language and psychologists may be involved to rule out disorders such as autism, cognitive delays, ADHD, or ADD.
What To Do
There are many strategies available to help children with auditory processing disorders. Most importantly, it is essential to get an accurate diagnosis so that you can access services for your child. Speech-language pathologists and audiologists can work with children with auditory processing disorders in a variety of different ways. Some specialists may work with children to help them learn to hear sounds more accurately and follow directions of increasing length in increasingly distracted environments. Others may use specially developed and acoustically modified computer programs such as FastForWord to retrain a child’s brain to process sound more accurately.
What’s more, teachers and parents can play a role in helping a child with an auditory processing disorder cope by implementing the following strategies:
- Seat the child close to the front of the class where he can better hear and attend to a teacher,
- Allow the child to wear a special assisted listening device which makes the teacher’s voice just a bit louder,
- Give the child time in to recharge in quiet, calm environments,
- Recognize and prepare for difficulties in noisy environments such as restaurants, classrooms, gyms, and supermarkets,
- Limit loud TV and music in the house, especially when a child is being asked to concentrate or participate in conversation,
- Give only one direction at a time or pause between directions to give the child time to process what is being said,
- Ensure that you have the child’s attention before speaking,
- Check to make sure a child has heard and understood something before expecting him to follow a direction, and
- Use visual supports such as pictures whenever possible at home and in school.
Auditory processing disorders can be hard on children, families, and teachers alike. With the proper treatment and coping strategies in place, however, there is much hope for everyone involved.