Auditory processing disorder, or APD, has recently been receiving more exposure in the medical and general community, creating awareness for children who suffer from this disorder and helping to increase access to diagnostic care.
However, even with increased exposure, there is still quite a bit of confusion as to what an auditory processing disorder actually is, and how it is diagnosed and treated.
What is an Auditory Processing Disorder?
The simplest way to explain what defines an auditory processing disorder (APD) is to realize the role of the central nervous system, or CNS, in APD. The CNS malfunctions and causes an uncoordinated relationship between the ears and the nervous system’s ability to fully process sounds and language. APD causes issues with:
- Understanding language
- Remembering information
- Processing conversation
However, there are multiple disorders that are different from APD but share these hallmark symptoms. Some similar disorders that may be mistaken for APD can include:
- Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Developmental disorders
To understand what APD is, it helps to recognize the important fact that it does not stem from any other greater cognitive or language disorder. While these other afflictions may exist parallel to APD because of a dual diagnosis, many children with this disorder do not have any other impairment.
How is a Child Diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder?
APD is a complex and nuanced disorder, so an accurate and detailed assessment of any child presenting with the following symptoms must be performed:
- Difficulty discerning words in a noisy environment
- Problems following directions
- Issues differentiating between speech and other sounds
- Problems spelling or reading
- Understanding information in the classroom
Once again, it is important to recognize that these symptoms in and of themselves are not necessarily indicative of APD. Thus, a careful and in-depth evaluation process of the entire spectrum of problems that a child with APD might potentially experience is necessary.
A team of care experts from a variety of disciplines are usually called upon to fully identify and explain the symptoms that a child with APD struggles with. Some professionals who are usually called upon to help diagnose the condition may include:
- Teachers who help to explain and identify academic difficulties
- A psychologist to evaluate and explain cognitive functions
- A speech and language pathologist who will assess written and oral language abilities
- An audiologist to administer definitive tests to prove a diagnosis
While all of the above listed professionals are crucial to fully understanding a child’s symptoms, an audiologist is the only professional capable of giving a final diagnosis of APD. The diagnostic process involves:
- A test of audio signals delivered to the child in a sound-controlled room
- The child must respond to these signals repetitively, establishing a baseline of comprehension and recognition
- Differing signals are delivered to help specify the exact audio deficits a child experiences
Learning About Auditory Processing Disorder Treatment Options
APD affects every child in a unique manner. Thus, an individualized and adaptable plan of treatment is of paramount importance to helping each child find an effective method of treatment. The 3 areas of functioning that are considered for treatment are:
- Environment – Altering or enhancing academic and other communicative arenas helps to increase comprehension. Electronic devices and teaching methods to increase ease of communication of data can, along with other plans of action, help a child to focus on information and retention.
- Compensating for APD with other areas of cognition – Helping a young person to rely more heavily upon solution formulation, recall abilities, attention span and further various cognitive skills may assist them in finding solutions to the everyday problems of APD. Teaching techniques, such as active listening, can also help a juvenile to become more proactive in processing and comprehension success.
- Treatment of the actual disorder – Individualized therapy can help to directly address APD. Some techniques utilize computer-assisted learning while others rely on individualized person-to-person therapy.
The effectiveness of treatment does not follow a clearly defined path, and each child often responds quite differently. Some children may seemingly recover fully, while others operate with some degree of difficulty due to APD for their entire lives.
However, expert and attentive treatment provides the opportunity for any child with APD to be properly diagnosed. This ensures that appropriate interventions can occur to allow their kids to learn, grow and adapt to their language processing difficulties with the most effective treatments available.
For parents who struggle with the special needs of raising a child with APD, these diagnostic and treatment models offer hope for a future that is not muddled by an unaddressed neurological disorder. For the children themselves, learning to take command of their own comprehension and communication skills empowers and enables them to prepare for a fulfilling and successful future.
About Dr Zhanneta Shapiro
Dr Zhanneta Shapiro received her Masters of Science from Brooklyn College in 2005 and completed her Doctorate of Audiology from Florida University in May 2008. Her graduate training was in various hospitals in the tri-state area and a residency period completed at Ear Nose and Throat Associates of New York. [ Learn More ]