Auditory Processing Difficulties

An individual may suspect they have an Auditory Processing Disorder, (APD), when they have a difficulty with understanding and interpreting oral information. 

Although children with APD can appear to have a hearing impairment, their hearing is usually within the normal range. The individual can hear what is being said, but finds it difficult to work out what the words mean. 

It can be hard to establish whether APD is a symptom or a contributory factor of Specific Learning Difficulties such as dyslexia or attention deficit, because of the overlapping behaviours involved. 

When a child with APD cannot understand what is being said, they may ask for repetition, copy their peers, misbehave, not react, or do what they, (mistakenly), believe they’ve been asked to do. Such behaviour could be viewed by an adult as the result of the child experiencing a hearing problem, learning difficulty, having a poor memory, a weakness in attention, or simply being naughty.

Parents may suspect that the child is not hearing or listening properly at a young age, but it is normally when the child starts school that the difficulties become more obvious. 

APD is believed to affect between 3%–5% of school-aged children.

The child with APD will display some of the following behaviours: –

  • Poor listening ability, for example, confusion when following the sequence of a story or remembering the role different characters play within the story.
  • A difficulty coping with noise, and generally being more distractible in noisy environments. The child’s listening and performance will improve in quieter settings.
  • A problem with identifying sounds and words accurately, and often confusing similar sounding words, for example house and horse, muslin and Muslim, gum and gone. 
  • The child will find it hard to remember simple songs and nursery rhymes.
  • In school they will be slow to contribute to class or group discussions.
  • A difficulty following simple instructions, often misunderstanding what they are being asked to do. They will regularly request repetition of information, or closely watch and then copy the actions of other children. 
  • They will find it hard to follow rapid speech and fast-moving conversations.
  • Their poor grasp of phonics will lead to comparatively slow development of early reading. 

To help the child with APD: –

  • Reduce background noise and visual distractions. Turn off the radio or TV when speaking to the child.
  • Ask the child to repeat instructions in their own words to make sure they have understood. 
  • Be aware of the impact on the child of situations where acoustics are particularly poor. 
  • Don’t use ‘flowery’ language. Give simple directions with fewer words and instructions for the child to follow. 
  • Speak clearly and deliberately, slowing your rate of speech if necessary. Face the child and ensure they are looking at you, using their name to hold their attention. 
  • Use pictures, body language, gesture and visual demonstration to clarify information given verbally.
  • Be patient: the child will need additional time to hear, process and then respond to what is being said.

Remember – The auditory system isn’t fully developed until an individual is about 14 years old. Most children with APD will develop better listening skills over time as their auditory systems mature.

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