Auditory processing has become quite a buzz word amongst school teachers and therapists recently. And rightly so, as it is often under-identified or misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder or bad behaviour, due to poor listening skills.
What is Auditory Processing?
Auditory processing is “what the brain does with what the ear hears” (Katz, 1994). In short, it is the ability of the brain to identify, localise, attend, remember and respond to auditory stimuli, generally the spoken word.
Central auditory processing disorders (CAPD) or auditory processing disorders (APD) are a pattern of disorders whereby certain of the skills that make up auditory processing skills are relatively weak, thereby affecting listening behaviours.
How Do You Know If It Is Auditory Processing, Or Just ‘Not Listening’?
Central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD) often present with similar symptoms. The primary symptoms for ADD tend to be inattentiveness, distractibility, hyperactivity, restlessness and impulsivity.
The primary symptoms for auditory processing disorder (APD) tend to be difficulty hearing in background noise, difficulty following oral instructions, poor listening skills, academic difficulties, distractibility and inattentiveness.[i]
How Is Auditory Processing Assessed?
Auditory processing is generally assessed by an audiologist (hearing healthcare professional). The audiologist would begin by assessing the outer, middle and inner ear structure and function to make sure that the hearing levels themselves are within normal limits, and there is no ear wax or middle ear infection preventing your child from listening!
Thereafter, the audiologist runs a series of tests. Your child wears a set of headphones and responds to auditory tests. Other tests involve more direct interaction with the audiologist. The results are scored and compared against normative data for children of the same age group. Relative strengths and relative weaknesses are identified.
The following subtests typically make up an auditory processing assessment:
- Auditory memory or sequencing for stories, sentences, words and digits
- Auditory discrimination between similar sounding words (chat/fat)
- Auditory closure for words that are missing a portion or are distorted
- Auditory analysis which involves breaking a word down into parts
- Auditory synthesis which involves building a word up by parts
- Speech in noise testing to test the child’s ability to ignore competing background noise
- Dichotic listening which involves listening to words or sentences presented to each ear at the same time
- Certain children present with patterns of strengths or weaknesses for certain skills. Depending on the pattern of presentation, this may result in certain difficulties in the classroom environment.
Can Auditory Processing Weaknesses Be Treated?
Treatment of auditory processing weaknesses is typically tailor-made for your child, depending on the pattern of weaknesses or strengths identified. Speech therapists are typically involved to provide auditory processing therapy, alternatively a home program of exercises may be suggested. Certain classroom modifications may be recommended to the teacher. If the weakness is significant, then assistive listening devices like an FM system may be helpful for some children.
What can parents do to help?
If you suspect that your child may be presenting with an auditory processing weakness, you can arrange for auditory processing testing to be conducted by a local audiologist . Testing is typically conducted on primary school-aged children age 6-11, but testing can be conducted on teenagers, depending on the tests available at your audiologist. The audiologist will be able to provide further information, specific to your child’s presentation.