Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), also known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), is distinguished by difficulties with processing sounds. It affects about 5% of school children. A child may have normal hearing and pass a hearing test, but still be diagnosed with APD. A child’s central nervous system controls many functions like thought processing, memory, attention, language, movement, and sensations. And APD refers to how the brain uses auditory information to manage those bodily functions.
APD is often misdiagnosed and undetected. Fortunately, professionals and the public are becoming increasingly aware of APD, which is leading to accurate diagnoses earlier on. Children with APD benefit best from early treatment when they receive an accurate diagnosis during early childhood.
Many clinicians misdiagnose APD as an attention disorder (ADHD or ADD), autism, or sensory processing disorder. However, a child can have APD and one of these diagnoses at the same time. A child that has higher-order cognitive or language disorder may not necessarily have APD. Similarly, a child with APD may not necessarily have cognitive or language disorder. Many children have no language deficits but have difficulty in auditory processing.
Children with APD may not be able to filter out background noise, so they may not be able to process information they hear in a noisy classroom or other setting. These children may often ask others to repeat or clarify things, which may cause teachers or other adults to mistake APD for hearing loss. Children with APD often have trouble following directions, especially multi-step directions. APD makes it hard for some children to make a distinction between certain speech sounds. Parents and teachers may notice that APD affects students’ schoolwork, especially in the areas of spelling, reading, and comprehension.
Since APD affects each student differently, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. However, treatment and interventions typically fall into three categories:
- Changing the learning environment such as adding electronic or assistive listening devices
- Using compensatory strategies to improve cognition, memory, and attention
- Attending one-on-one therapy to treat the disorder directly
It is important to approach a diagnosis of APD carefully and accurately. A good starting point is to complete an APD screening test with a qualified psychologist or speech-language therapist who can detect auditory processing disorder deficits. If an auditory processing issue is noted, then your child would be referred to an audiologist. Only a qualified audiologist can make the APD diagnosis.