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“What, Mom?”: Signs Your Child May Have Auditory Processing Disorder

Young Girl Struggling With Homework

Does your child have trouble following directions, often ask you to repeat things you’ve said, struggle to learn the words to familiar songs, or have difficulty reading and spelling? If so, then it’s possible he or she is showing signs of Auditory Processing Disorder.

Auditory Processing Disorder, or “APD”, is a term referring to a listening problem that has gained attention in recent years. And while it is estimated that up to 5% of all school-aged children have APD, many of the characteristics overlap with other language and learning disorders. That can make it a little tricky to tease out.

Let’s talk about what red flags to look out for, how you can find out if your child truly has an Auditory Processing Disorder, and where to seek help.

The Signs

According to experts, an Auditory Processing Disorder includes listening difficulties in which your child may have trouble “taking in” or processing the sounds they hear. When we hear sounds within words, our brain and ears have to coordinate to make sense of it. Children with APD struggle with this.

Here are some common characteristics of Auditory Processing Disorder in children:

  • Difficulty hearing subtle differences between sounds (Auditory Discrimination). For example, a child can have trouble hearing the difference between the words bat and cat.
  • Decreased phonological awareness skills (sound awareness tasks like rhyming or changing sounds in words to create new words)
  • Increased difficulty listening when there is background noise
  • Trouble pronouncing words (switching sounds that are similar, like pronouncing pat as “bat”)
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Frequent asking for repetitions (a child may often ask, “what?” after spoken to)
  • Delayed response when communicating with others
  • Trouble understanding when they are spoken to quickly
  • Difficulty picking up on the words to familiar nursery rhymes or songs
  • Monotone speech
  • Trouble noticing changes in the inflection of speech sounds (can make it hard for them to pick up on hidden cues behind others’ messages, like sarcasm)
  • Easily distracted/trouble paying attention
  • Difficulty remembering spoken information (such as the details from a story they’ve just heard)
  • Falling behind in reading and spelling
  • Learning difficulties at school

You might notice these symptoms in your child as early as preschool, or when they begin elementary school or even in higher grade levels. APD can be diagnosed all the way up to adulthood! Some of the signs overlap with disorders like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), so it’s best to seek a professional assessment for your child if you have concerns.

What Causes APD?

In some cases, the cause of Auditory Processing Disorder in children is unknown. We do know it has been linked to other disorders, like the ones listed here:

  • Neurological disorders (such as a brain injury or seizures)
  • Genetic disorders
  • Prematurity
  • Pregnancy or birth complications
  • History of frequent ear infections

It’s important to note that children with Auditory Processing Disorders have normal results on hearing tests.

Who Diagnoses APD?

It usually takes a team to diagnose APD. Parents or teachers might be the first to notice when a child has red flags for APD. A Speech-Language Pathologist (also referred to as a Speech Therapist) can complete an assessment of a child’s language skills. The therapist can gather information about a child’s auditory comprehension skills, like remembering information after hearing a story. He or she may also assess the child’s phonological awareness skills (such as blending sounds) or reading and spelling skills. Testing can also include different receptive language tasks, such as following directions spoken to them.

Ultimately, the diagnosis of Auditory Processing Disorder is given by an Audiologist. The Audiologist looks at specific hearing skills such as the child’s ability to differentiate between closely related speech sounds.

How Can I Help My Child?

With patience, support, and treatment!

If your child has Auditory Processing Disorder, you can help him or her by making some accommodations at home and discussing them with your child’s teacher. Try speaking slowly and slightly louder, reducing background noise when communicating with him or her, and repeating information when needed.

Speech Therapy is recommended for children with APD. TherapyWorks is a company that provides speech, physical, and occupational therapy services. A licensed therapist can complete an evaluation with your child, and if recommended, provide therapy to improve his or her auditory processing skills to allow your child to thrive socially and academically!

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