Some young children seem to have problems deciphering or decoding the sounds that make up language. Even though they have normal hearing, they miss a lot of the details of what’s being said around them, especially in noisy or distracting environments. These children may have a condition called auditory processing disorder, and that can interfere with both learning and interacting with other people.
Things to look for
What are the signs that a child might have auditory processing challenges? Here are some behaviors you or your child’s teacher might have noticed:
- Doesn’t pick up nursery rhymes or song lyrics
- Has trouble following directions
- Doesn’t remember details of what she’s heard
- Appears to be listening but not hearing
- Often mistakes two similar-sounding words
- Has difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments
- Has trouble learning to read and spell
- Finds it hard to follow conversations
- Finds it hard to express himself clearly
- Frequently asks people to repeat what they’ve said
These are all behaviors that can indicate auditory processing problems, but they are also behaviors that can have other causes. Some of them appear in children with ADHD or other language or learning disorders, so determining the cause of the behavior is crucial to diagnosing the child’s challenges correctly.
Because these symptoms overlap with other disorders, auditory processing disorder cannot be diagnosed just from a checklist of symptoms. While a teacher, educational therapist or speech-language pathologist can evaluate how a child is functioning in terms of language and listening tasks, the condition is only diagnosed by audiologists, who use tests that measure specific auditory processing functions. Children can be weak in one or more of them.
To evaluate a child’s auditory processing, an audiologist will do a series of tests, in a sound-treated room, that require the child to listen to a variety of signals and respond to them in some way. A child must be at least 7 or 8 to be mature enough to take the test.
Because it overlaps with other attention, language and learning disorders, not all experts see auditory processing problems as constituting a separate disorder. It’s not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that psychiatrists and others use as a common basis for diagnosis.
But kids who have weaknesses in auditory processing can often benefit from accommodations that include optimizing the listening environment the classroom and instruction that plays to other strengths. And they often work with speech and language professionals to strengthen listening and decoding skills that come automatically to other kids.