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Auditory Processing Disorders in Children

If your child is having trouble listening in noisy environments and often asks you to repeat yourself, he may be suffering from hearing loss, or he may have an auditory processing disorder (APD) instead.

With APD, a child's hearing is normal, but their brain has difficulty interpreting what their ears are hearing.  Research indicates that between three and 20 percent of children have some form of APD and a significant number of those children also have attention disorders, such as ADHD. As with hearing impairments, early detection and treatment is important. Left untreated, APD can cause problems with critical thinking skills, a reluctance to read and behavioral issues -- all which can negatively affect academic success. Untreated APD can also result in social isolation, frustration and depression.

How do you know if your child has APD? Common symptoms include problems listening, difficulty understanding and implementing oral instructions, and poor language skills. One of the most common symptoms is a problem distinguishing between similarly sounding words. Additionally, children with APD often have problems with reading and homework.

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms, have them evaluated by an audiologist. This hearing health professional will use a battery of tests to determine whether or not your child has ADP. This may include testing  your child's sensitivity to the loudness of the sounds they hear and how well he can recognize sounds in words and sentences. Because of the skills necessary to take these tests, most children are tested at age seven or eight.

The good news is, once APD is diagnosed, it can be successfully treated. Treatment for APD is customized according to the specific auditory issues your child is having. After the audiologist determines your child has APD, he will most likely work with a speech pathologist. This professional will work to strengthen the way your child understands and uses language.

Other types of treatment may include:

  • Auditory Trainers. These electronic devices are often used in classroom situations. The teacher wears a microphone which transmits the sound of her voice directly to a set of earphones the child is wearing. This helps reduce background noise so the child can focus on classroom instruction.
  • Environmental modifications, which can be as simple as changing where your child sits in the classroom or other adjustments designed to reduce noise levels in the classroom, such as putting rubber tips on chairs, using rugs and draperies, and installing acoustic tiles to soundproof walls and ceilings.
  • Language-building exercises. The content of these exercises will depend upon the type of auditory processing problems your child is having. They often consist of computer programs your child can work on independently and at their own pace.

If your child is diagnosed with APD, you can help them by reducing the amount of background noise at home, asking them to look at your while you're speaking and  to repeat what they heard back to you, and using pictures to illustrate what you're saying.  Children with APD also do better when they are on a daily schedule and have a smooth transition between home and school.  

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