Does your child often says “what,” “huh” or “I don’t get it” and requires a lot of repetition, he or she may have auditory processing disorder.
The child may have trouble following directions with multiple steps or understanding speech amid background noise. He or she may simply seem “tuned out.” These are all potential symptoms of APD, a neurodevelopmental specialist says.
Auditory processing is what happens to sound as it travels around in your brain and how you understand what you hear, explains neurodevelopmental audiologist Dr. Leah Light, founder of the Brainchild Institute in Hollywood, which treats children of all ages.
“We hear with our brains. Our ears just carry sound information into the brain,” she said.
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Put simply, a disorder occurs when the brain can’t hear, she said.
The research is still in its early stages on APD, also referred to as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, but estimates of how many school-aged children it could affect are as high as 20 percent, Light said.
“They often get frustrated, they hate school and don’t want to go. They feel inferior, they misunderstand intentions, they have trouble interpreting sarcasm. It causes a lot of anxiety in addition to the learning problems,” Light explained.
There are several types of APD and the disorder may exist with other diagnoses, such as ADHD or language disorder. The causes aren’t yet well understood but patients often have had early middle ear fluid or infections during critical time periods for hearing development in the first two years of life, Light said.
Other risk factors include family history, prematurity, traumatic birth, delayed developmental milestones, severe jaundice and other sensory processing deficits, she added. The good news is that APD is treatable. An audiologist with specialized training in evaluating APD can make a diagnosis.
Because of the tools available, APD is not usually diagnosed until a child is about 7, sometimes a bit earlier, perhaps at age 5. But Light is researching ways to identify it much earlier.
“We need tools to be able to identify kids at risk much earlier, so we can make the most change. That’s why I also focus on looking at primary reflexes of infants.”
But kids older than 7 or 8 can make significant gains. Here are some of the ways APD can be managed, according to Light:
▪ Accommodations such as preferential seating and extra time for test taking can be helpful.
▪ Use of an FM system, a device that amplifies the teacher’s voice in the classroom, can help children who have trouble hearing amid background noise.
▪ Special programs such as Fast ForWord, Earobics and Lindamood Bell can directly address APD depending on the type that is diagnosed by the audiologist.
▪ Speech-language pathologists can partner with audiologists to provide training to improve deficient sound encoding skills and language processing.
▪ Occupational therapy can help improve sensory processing issues that can contribute to APD, and reading specialists can also help children overcome certain types of the disorder.
Finally, Light suggests a simple and effective way to help your child develop auditory processing skills.
“Playing a musical instrument has been found to be extremely beneficial for strengthening auditory processing skills. We encourage parents to get their kids as early as possible into a musical program.”