A child with Auditory Processing Disorder may appear not to hear parts of a conversation or remember instructions, or they may seem to be ignoring someone talking, even if they are close by. They may appear deaf – but this is nothing to do with hearing, and the child may indeed have normal, or even more sensitive than normal, hearing. Difficulties with auditory processing stem from a malfunction in the transfer of audio signals from the ear to the brain.
The Listen and Learn Centre in Melbourne define APD as “a problem in the decoding of language”.
www.auditoryprocessing.com.au defines APD as follows:
“People who have normal hearing actually hear far more than they perceive. Where hearing is a function of the ear, auditory processing – listening – is a function of the brain. Auditory processing describes the way the brain assigns significance and meaning to the sounds in the environment. Effective auditory processing involves a relatively high speed of information transfer. It also requires a good attention span, a well-functioning memory, and sensitivity to the many subtleties of sound. When parts of this complex system break down or don’t operate efficiently, listening is compromised. All the ensuing problems are collectively known as Auditory Processing Disorders (APD).”
It can mean the child doesn’t always register speech, or that they sometimes misunderstand or misremember something that is being said. It can adversely affect their memory of oral information, which can cause frustration as the child is convinced they have remembered something right when it is wrong, or they may have no glimmer of recollection of something they have been told.
APD affects around 5% of school-aged children, and is often worse in loud environments, for instance at school, as the child has difficulty differentiating what is being said from the background noise. This can lead to difficulties with their schoolwork, and their grades may suffer as a result.
The Listen and Learn Centre also note that APD can lead to the “deterioration of behaviour as a result of poor expressive and receptive communication. As children experience the discouragement of being misunderstood and the frustration of misunderstanding others, they become more disconnected from their environment and the people around them”. The child may learn coping strategies such as lip-reading. The Neurosensory Unit has this to say:
“It [the central auditory system] helps us to identify the non-linguistic elements of speech and communication, such as rhythm, timing and pitch that assist in interpreting humour and sarcasm, as well as intent of communication.”
APD can be another reason, in addition to sensory overload, that can cause a child to withdraw from social situations. In fact, it seems that sensory overload can also occur with APD, according to the Listen and Learn Centre:
“The term ‘auditory overload’ is often used to describe what happens to people who have APD. Auditory overload is a sense of being overwhelmed and relates to features of the information being received. If information is highly specific, spoken quickly, lacking in contextual cues, described in unfamiliar language or presented in a noisy environment, it will be very difficult for someone with APD to comprehend the message or follow through with instructions.”
Some children with APD may be seem to have very sensitive hearing, and could hear a pin drop in a quiet room. The team at the Listen and Learn Centre have a theory about this:
“Some children are more attentive to bone conducted sounds. They primarily listen with their body instead of with their ears. These individuals have difficulties in dampening the sound intensity and to filter out irrelevant sounds. This may be one of the reasons why individuals are hyper sensitive to sound as they may have lost the ability to focus and tune out extraneous background noise. In this situation, every noise has the same amount of importance. Capturing a word may be difficult as ambient noise distracts from focusing. As a result, the child misses part of the conversation or instruction being given.”
There is no relationship between intelligence and APD; a very bright child may be having difficulty at school and poor marks, which could puzzle parents or teachers.
In this case changes to the teaching style could help, with more emphasis on visual learning strategies.
There is no cure for APD, but it can be treated with speech therapy, reading recovery or through an Auditory Integration Listening Program
kidshealth.org have some tips and strategies for teaching a child with APD: Strategies
- Tips for helping children with Auditory Processing Disorder (engagekids.wordpress.com)