Sometimes parents worry that their children aren't coping at school, or their results just don't seem to match their potential. For some kids, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) could be the problem, and the earlier you identify it, the better.
Auditory Processing Disorder is a hearing disorder in which the ears process sound normally, but the brain cannot always understand or ‘hear’. Children with APD may exhibit signs of hearing loss, especially when there are competing sounds at even moderate levels (imagine a busy classroom situation with 25 children chatting and working, chairs being moved, other kids walking by outside), yet they pass standard hearing tests conducted in quiet. Despite having normal intelligence, they may need instructions repeated and may have difficulty following directions in the classroom. In particular, they may not respond appropriately to instructions that are lengthy or that include more than
A child who has difficulty understanding verbal instructions and who struggles with reading and spelling could have an Auditory Processing Disorder. APD affects an estimated 3-15% of children – more boys than girls – and most go undiagnosed.
APD can present as a learning or behaviour problem and can cause under-achievement because these children are missing out on vital information. The problem lies in the hearing pathways and centres in the brain. Children are unable to extract the message that they need to from all the sound and noise around them. Or they have trouble retaining auditory information unless it is brief. Short-term memory, learning times tables and working out patterns in spelling, for example, can be particularly difficult for these children.
- Causes of APD include birth trauma, early history of otitis media (glue ear) and hereditary factors.
- APD is often mistaken for other conditions that affect learning and behaviour. Also, the condition can be overlooked because it often occurs in conjunction with other areas of difficulty such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), language and speech sound problems, and reading disorders.
- It can be the underlying cause of language, spelling, reading and learning disorders. Often children have big gaps in their learning as they simply haven’t processed what is going on in the classroom. The important thing is to address the auditory problem first, then tackle the academic problems that
APD is not easy to assess, and requires specialised testing and individualised treatment. A multi-disciplinary team approach is necessary. But the good news is that there is now robust evidence for the effectiveness of a number of interventions, including hearing training to improve listening skills, language therapy to improve understanding and wearing a personal “FM” listening device in the classroom to transmit the voice of the teacher clearly, and lessen the impact of background noise.
Professor Suzanne Purdy, Head of Speech Science and senior researcher in the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, has recently concluded research showing that FM usage delivers a double benefit for children with APD. Firstly, it provides immediate assistance with hearing, but over time, FM usage also can lead to an improvement in auditory skills, so that use of the FM system may not be permanently necessary.
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