Is your child easily distracted? Do they find noisy environments upsetting? Is reading, writing and spelling a problem? Do they find it hard to follow conversations? These may be symptoms of an auditory processing difficulty (APD).
Some children cannot make sense of what they hear, yet they do not have a hearing loss. Sounds, words and sentences take longer than expected to take shape into meaningful patterns so, when other babies are looking, listening and learning from what they see and hear, children with APD are surrounded by meaningless noises that can be frustrating and sometimes frightening.
Ten factors that may indicate an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
A child who has APD:
- Is easily distracted.
- Becomes unusually bothered by loud or sudden noises.
- Finds noisy environments upsetting.
- Behaves and performs better in quieter settings.
- Has difficulty following directions, whether simple or complicated.
- Encounters problems with some or all of: reading, spelling, writing or other speech/language.
- Finds abstract information difficult to interpret.
- Struggles with verbal maths problems.
- Is disorganised and forgetful.
- Has difficulty following conversations.
Many of these may also appear in other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning difficulties and even depression. For this reason APD is often misdiagnosed.
Auditory processing difficulty arises because of the inability of the brain and ear to coordinate and so process information and work out the meaning of sounds. Symptoms of APD can range from mild to severe, and can take many different forms. Trained professionals, such as speech and language therapists and audiologists who specialise in APD, can determine if your child has a central auditory processing disorder.
What are the characteristics of APD?
- Auditory figure-ground problems: the child is unable to pay attention because of noise in the background. Noisy, low-structured classrooms can be very frustrating to this child.
- Auditory memory problems: a child has difficulty remembering information such as directions, lists or study materials. Memory problems can exist on an immediate basis - ‘I can’t remember it now’ - and/or on a deferred basis: ‘I can’t remember it when I need it for later’.
- Auditory discrimination problems: a child will have difficulty hearing the difference between sounds or words that are similar (coat/boat or ch/sh). This problem can affect their ability to follow directions, read, spell and write, among other skills.
- Auditory attention problems: a child is unable to maintain focus and listen long enough to complete a task or requirement (eg listening to a lesson in school). Health, motivation and attitude can also affect attention.
- Auditory cohesion problems: these relates to higher-level listening tasks. A child affected in this way will find it difficult to draw inferences from conversations, understand riddles or comprehend verbal maths problems - all of which require heightened auditory processing and language levels.
Help at school for children with APD
One of the most important things that both parents and teachers should do is to realise that APD is real. Symptoms and behaviour are not within the child’s control.
A child with APD cannot (rather than will not) maintain attention.
How professionals can help
- A speech and language therapist can help with drawing up an individual education plan.
- School staff should keep in regular contact with the parents regarding their child’s progress.
- The teacher should help with whatever aids may assist in class, such as an assignment pad or a tape recorder.
- Sitting towards the front of the classroom facing away from the windows will help concentration and minimise distraction.
What parents can do to help
- Reduce background noise.
- Make sure your child is looking at you when you are speaking.
- Use simple, expressive sentences.
- Speak at a slightly slower rate and at a mildly increased volume.
- Reinforce directions. Difficulty with following directions is possibly the single most common complaint. Ask your child to repeat the directions back to you aloud and to keep repeating them aloud (or to themselves) until the directions are completed. Make certain your child understands the directions and is not just repeating your words. For directions that are to be completed at a later time, writing notes, wearing a watch and maintaining a predictable routine in the household also help.
- Help your child to be organised.
- Provide your child with a quiet study place.
- Ensure there are plenty of regular tasks and responsibilities; these help to build self-esteem.
Help your child to understand that they can be actively involved in giving themselves the best chances, such as moving to a quieter place when listening is necessary and applying the strategies taught in speech and language therapy.