Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
The following quote from a school psychologist I worked with may best describe a common, but underrated disability that afflicts many students receiving special education services:
“The hearing is fine, but the message is not coming through clearly.”
Over the years, as a special education teacher, I dealt mostly with students with this condition. Auditory processing disorder is a specific learning disorder in children and adults; however, it is not as well known—or as properly diagnosed—as other disorders such as ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, or Autism.
Still, under the United States law Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), APD (is it is also known as), is often a key factor in determining if a student will receive special education services.
The conditions are, for the most part, mild and can be treated through proper use of accommodations done by a regular or special education teacher. In some cases, if properly diagnosed and educationally treated, the condition's impact can be drastically reduced.
Students with auditory processing disorder will also hear the word “cat”; however, the process of turning sounds into meaningful information takes longer.
How Auditory Processing Disorder Differs From Hearing Impairment
Hearing pitches or tones is not a problem for students with this condition. Many of them can hear at the same level as their non-disabled peers. However, the problem comes in terms of processing sound into meaningful information in a timely manner.
In fact, according to research on the matter from a 2010 article from the journal Pediatrics titled "Nature of Auditory Processing Disorder in Children," around "5% of children that were referred to audiology services" were:
- not found to have hearing loss;
- their difficulty centered around speech perception;
- and were diagnosed with auditory processing disorder.
Normally, auditory processing is quick. The sound enters the ears, travels through to the brain by means of auditory nerves, and is processed into information. Once students hear a word like “cat,” they almost instantly think of an image associated with the spoken word. In other words, an image of a furry four-legged pet comes to mind.
Students with auditory processing disorder will also hear the word “cat”; however, the process of turning sounds into meaningful information takes longer. It’s as if the “direct link” from the ear to the brain has been circumvented or is not in a hypothetical straight line. The time it takes for information to be processed can last a few seconds longer than what is considered normal. Also, the process is not clean. While the students with auditory processing disorder may have heard the word “cat” mentioned, it may have been processed as “zat."
The Effects on Learning
Although the condition is mild, it can generate a lot of confusion that can affect phonemic awareness, memory problems, and sequencing. Most often, children with this condition may appear to be slow, have trouble grasping an oral lesson or lecture given by a teacher, and be distracted.
Students with this condition will also have a difficult time concentrating in a noisy classroom. These students will have a difficult time processing multiple auditory cues. Chattering students or distracting noises outside the classroom can affect their ability to concentrate on a lecture from the teacher.
Also, the condition can at times mimic other learning disorders. It’s not uncommon for students with this condition to be misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD, for they will appear to be not paying attention or distracted (especially when there is the presence of multiple auditory cues in the classroom).
There are no known causes for auditory processing. Some research indicates it may be genetic. Others suggest it’s environmental or a result of a birth defect.
Treatment by Accommodation
The condition is treatable, at least in the classroom. Accommodations such as having the student seated near the teacher, the use of visual cues to support lectures, repetition, and allowance of time for processing information have proven to be useful. Also, these accommodations are often listed in the accommodation/modification pages of an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Technology has also helped to treat this condition. In some school districts, students with this condition use FM receivers to help the students focus on the teachers' voices. In this situation, students wear a headset and receiver—looking very much like an MP3 player (or to be more precise, like a 1980 version of a Sony Walkman)—while the teachers speak through microphones around their neck. This device filters the teachers' voices for the students wearing this.
There are no known causes for auditory processing. Some research indicates it may be genetic. Others suggest it’s environmental or a result of a birth defect. Other indications seem to indicate that the condition is not permanent for everyone who has it. Some may have had delayed development in the area of the brain where auditory information is processed.
Still, for others, the condition is permanent. While for these people it can last a lifetime, they may form learning techniques to get around it.
Auditory Processing Disorder is often a common cause of specific learning disorders in students. Still, the disorder can be treated with appropriate accommodations and doesn't always require placement in a special education class. Many will need to form new ways to learn or seek accommodations or technology to aid them in school.
The Future Is Bright
In many cases, auditory processing disorders will stay with an individual for a lifetime. In rare cases, the disorder can vanish as the individual physically matures. However, through accommodations at school and work—as well as the individual's ability to adjust to the disability—this condition's effects can be drastically minimized.
In fact, it's not surprising that students with minor forms of this condition are fully mainstreamed and, eventually, exited from special education services before graduation.
Extra: Signs of Auditory Processing Disorder
According to the website for Listen And Learn Centre, the symptoms for these disorders are as follows:
- Student appears to be having difficulty paying attention in noisy environments.
- They have difficulties remembering directives from the instructor.
- They have trouble hearing the difference between similar sounds or words.
- Students have difficulty following listening tasks.
- They struggle understanding riddles or verbal math problems (which can be the cause of a disorder known as dyscalculia).
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
The U.S. Department of Education’s IDEA website brings together department and grantee IDEA information and resources. The IDEA makes available a free appropriate public education to and ensures special education.
- Auditory Processing Disorder (for Parents): Nemours KidsHealth
Kids with APD can't process what they hear as other kids do, because their ears and brain don't fully coordinate. But early diagnosis and therapy can improve their hearing skills.
- Auditory Processing Screening Assessment & Test | Listen And Learn Centre
Auditory Processing Screening Assessment: Listen and Learn Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Call for information on Auditory Processing Screening Assessment & Test.
- Nature of Auditory Processing in Children (PDF)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Dean Traylor