Our world is filled with the sounds of life: the wind rustling through the trees, the sounds of children laughing and most importantly, our ability to communicate with spoken language. How our brains are able to take in this auditory information and make sense of it is a very complex process. Amazingly, for most of us, it happens instantaneously, efficiently and effortlessly. For others, the process is not so simple.
For instance, some children may have no trouble hearing the sounds in our environment, but have difficulty or are seemingly unable to make sense of what they hear. Often, these children are said to have attention deficits, behavioral problems or an inability or lack of motivation to listen and learn when, in fact, the child in question may actually be experiencing an auditory processing problem.
So, what is Auditory Processing?
Researchers Katz, Stecker and Henderson (1992) simply defined auditory processing as “what we do with what we hear.” Auditory processing describes the highly complex brain function that occurs when the brain receives sound from the environment, recognizes it and then interprets it. Auditory processing allows us to find where sounds are in space, determine what a sound was, and discriminate the intricacies of our language and separate important sounds (i.e. speech) from non-essential sounds like noise.
What is an Auditory Processing Disorder, then?
The term Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) refers to the brains inability or decreased capacity to efficiently process or interpret auditory information. Often, children with APD have normal hearing. That is, the mechanical parts of the ear are working normally. But children with APD behave as if they have trouble hearing, especially in difficult or complex listening environments. Children with APD can have a range of difficulties, especially in the classroom. These difficulties may include difficulty following multi-step directions, poor reading and/or spelling skills, responding inappropriately to questions and poor music skills.
Are tests available to determine if my child has an APD?
There are many tests available to determine if a child has an Auditory Processing Disorder. These tests will evaluate specific brain functions as they relate to the interpretation of auditory information. Not every test is appropriate for every child. The goal of the audiologist is to approach each child as an individual and consider his or her strengths and weaknesses in order to determine the tests that will be most appropriate for defining the auditory processing difficulties the child is experiencing.
Most tests fall into two categories: behavioral tests, which require the child to perform a task and electrophysiological tests, which do not require a response from the child. The results of both types of tests, when combined, will give a comprehensive picture of how the child processes sound. When the test results are further combined with information from other professionals, such as speech pathologist, psychologists and classroom teachers, an appropriate plan for management can be completed.
Management of an auditory processing disorder can be a long-term investment of time and energy by the child’s family and by those directly involved with the child’s education, health and wellness. In general, management will focus on how to change the environments the child finds most difficult, including in the classroom and at home, how to improve the child’s ability to listen and understand conversational speech through therapy or home-based activities and improving the child’s learning skills in the classroom.
If you suspect that your child may have an Auditory Processing Disorder, the thought of beginning such a process may be daunting. There is also no “crystal ball” to determine the likely benefit of such testing and management. But with a team approach and your motivation to succeed, your child will ultimately be the better for it. If you have any questions regarding APD or would like further resources, please contact one of our Audiologists. We’d be glad to help.