About auditory processing disorder
Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a problem with the way your hearing and brain work together to understand sound. Children with APD might have normal hearing, but have difficulty recognising and interpreting the sounds they hear. They might also be unusually sensitive to sounds.
These difficulties make it hard for children with APD to work out what a sound is, where the sound came from and when the sound happened. And this means it can be hard for children with APD to listen properly when there’s background noise or the sound is muffled. As a result, APD can affect children’s learning, language and reading.
APD can be hard to diagnose. That’s because the difficulties it causes can look like the signs of deafness or hearing loss, intellectual disability, a language problem, a learning difficulty, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It’s estimated that APD affects around 2-5% of school-age children.
APD is also called central auditory processing disorder (CAPD).
Signs and symptoms of auditory processing disorder
If a child has auditory processing disorder (APD), you might notice that they have difficulties with:
- listening and hearing, especially if there’s a lot of background noise and distractions
- following instructions
- staying focused – for example, they might be easily distracted
- remembering spoken instructions
- telling the difference between letters that sound similar, like ‘k’ and ‘g’, or ‘t’ and ‘d’
- remembering to say the beginning or end sounds of words when they’re reading.
This means that problems with learning, listening and communication, reading and writing can be signs of APD.
Diagnosis and assessment of auditory processing disorder
Auditory processing disorder (APD) is usually diagnosed once children start school.
It’s a good idea to first see your GP or paediatrician for advice if you’ve noticed any of the signs or symptoms of APD, or if your child’s teacher has noticed your child is having trouble listening at school.
The GP or paediatrican might refer your child to an audiologist to test your child’s hearing.
If the audiologist thinks the problem might be APD, they’ll do an auditory processing assessment. This includes diagnostic hearing tests for hearing loss and auditory processing tests.
An auditory processing test involves several short tests like listening to and repeating words and sounds back to the audiologist. The audiologist uses equipment to change the words and sounds so they’re harder to understand – for example, the equipment might add background noise or play words or sounds at the same time.
You can ask your audiologist for more information about the tests before your child has them.
Your child might also be referred to a psychologist to rule out other conditions like a learning difficulty or an intellectual disability. And your child might see a speech pathologist, who can assess your child’s ability to identify sounds, process sounds for learning language, and use sound skills for reading.
If you think your child might have signs of APD, it’s best to see your GP as soon as possible. When APD is diagnosed early, children can get treatment early too. Early treatment gives children with APD the best opportunity to improve their listening and get support for learning at school.
Support and treatment for auditory processing disorder
With the right intervention and support, children with auditory processing disorder (APD) can improve their ability to listen in the classroom and other noisy environments. In some cases, intervention can improve listening ability to a typical level.
Your audiologist might suggest strategies or training programs for your child. The audiologist might also recommend that your child uses a personal remote microphone or sound field amplification system. This will help your child hear the teacher’s voice more clearly, even when there’s a lot of background noise.
Your child might see a speech pathologist to work on their language skills. Your child might also see a special education teacher for extra help at school, especially with reading and writing. An educational psychologist might also be able to help.
Treatment for APD is tailored to each child. It’s a good idea to talk with your audiologist or speech pathologist about the treatment options that might work best for your child.