How to Deal With Auditory Processing Disorder: A Mom’s Survival Guide

From early signs, to coping with tweens and teens: here’s what you need to know

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My own personal experience with a child who has auditory processing disorder can confirm that the disability can go undetected until your child reaches grade school, where instructions are conveyed verbally.

In this article, I will share with you my own personal experience living with a child with ADP. My hope is that sharing my personal journey and findings will help any parents who are facing a similar situation.

With my daughter, in hindsight, there were a few small telltale signs that were simply put down as her being a stubborn child.

Telltale signs

  • Basic instructions often had to be repeated
  • Despite communicating clearly and using advanced vocabulary for her age she often used the phrase, “I beg your pardon” or “what” when spoken to.
  • She showed definite tactile issues, e.g. if someone touched her without prior warning she would immediately “pull” away as if she had been offended.
  • Her sense of smell and taste was extremely heightened

While these signs were not enough to raise any red flags, today knowing what Auditory Processing Disorder actually is, and how it affects the person, it all makes perfect sense.

Auditory Processing Disorder -or APD- is a learning disability which is best described as the inability to correctly process auditory speech, despite having normal hearing.

In recent years APD is becoming more frequently diagnosed in children and adults alike, whereas in previous years it was often times misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorders such as ADHD.

How do You Know if Your Child has APD?

While there is a lot of debate as to what the early signs of APD are, there are definitive signs that become prevalent in school-aged children; some specialists believe that formal testing for auditory processing disorder should not be done on children younger than 7 years of age.

The primary reason for this is due to the language skills required in order to correctly test for and diagnose APD.

The Link Between Auditory Processing Disorder and Autism

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While Autism may seem like a severe disorder, numerous education specialists are starting to recognize similarities between autistic children and ADP sufferers.

Most people who have been diagnosed with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome usually display one of the main characteristics of children with APD – ‘reported difficulties understanding speech, particularly in situations where background noise or speech is present’.

Hypersensitivity to noise or the inability to concentrate due to the inability to drown out background noises is a key factor in miscommunication for both APD and Autistic children and adults.

One particular study revealed that 9% of APD referrals to specialists were also formally diagnosed with autism.

Similarities that may be present are:

  • Above average sensory sensitivity of all five senses (sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste).
  • Extreme or abnormal reactions of indifference or aversion to sounds or touch.
  • Unusual behaviors or interests and mild social and communication challenges. This behavior has become more pronounced as my daughter has grown into a young adult.

While classic autism presents with significant delays, Asperger Syndrome and Atypical Autism are more subtle and can be linked to those who have been diagnosed with APD.

Of the three types of autism, the last two are more commonly linked to those with auditory processing disorder. The CDC estimates an average of 1 in 59 children (2014 CDC) were identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The social and communication aspect of APD sufferers with autism definitely can be misunderstood.

Personally, I found our family members often being offended by the manner in which my daughter would state a fact or just the tone she would use to communicate, which 9 times out of 10 comes across as being abrupt.

Learning at this late stage what the root cause of her “inappropriate” communication skills are, has definitely helped me understand her and reconnect with her on a social level.

Tips for parents and teachers on how to successfully manage APD:

One of the primary concerns about children with auditory processing disorder is the fact that no two cases are alike.

This presents a true dilemma when it comes to being able to manage the child and – truth to be told- it actually becomes a trial-by-error scenario.

Here are a few simple rules one can follow:

  • Eye contact is vital – teachers and parents should speak at eye level and ensure that eye contact is held whilst giving instructions. This combination of auditory and visual stimuli will maximize the receipt of instructions.
  • Cueing – working out a system to cue the student when they are not paying attention without directly “calling them out” also helps the student to focus. Specific word usage such as “ready”, “remember this one” or “listen” have proven to work.
  • Buddy system – this system is effective if it is appropriate for the specific child. Peer partner assigning can aid the student in obtaining key information, paying better attention and assist students to finish tasks within the prescribed timeline.
  • Mark transitions – Children with APD will need additional time to move from one activity to the next. In order to assist in this transition, each activity should be clearly defined, all steps needed to complete the task/activity should be explained, and once the task has been completed it should be reviewed before moving on to the next activity.
  • Note taking – assisting students with note-taking, by providing a study guide, allowing to copy another student’s notes or the teacher’s notes, will ensure that the child is able to follow a lesson without any distractions. Another option would be to allow the lesson to be recorded.
  • Preferential and flexible seating – allowing the student to sit closer to the sound source or away from any distracting noises, will ensure that their attention is directed towards the teacher. Allowing the student the freedom to move if they are being distracted will ensure they actively participate in the class.
  • Additional recommendations – the use of earplugs during individual activity time in class may be beneficial to tune out any distractions. Some schools may allow the use of an FM amplification system for students who particularly need to have outside and surrounding noise “drowned out”.

When giving instructions:

  1. Gain the child’s attention and ensure you have eye contact. Our speech therapist taught me to place my index finger on my chin, pointing towards my lips, before starting to give an instruction, and this worked very well with my daughter.
  2. Speak in a clear voice, using varied intonation and loudness to gain and keep the child’s attention.
  3. Use natural gestures while giving instructions.
  4. Give age-appropriate instructions and repeat important keywords.
  5. Once the instruction has been given, ask the child to repeat it back to you in sequence.

Most of all BE PATIENT, your APD child may need a little more time to process the steps of the given instruction, but they are highly intelligent and will get it right.

As they get older the process becomes easier and most of the time they will develop coping mechanisms that will work for them.

As far as getting professional help, Occupational Therapy did not work for my daughter.

It actually exhausted her, as she – like most APD sufferers – tends to become easily fatigued because she is spending much more energy than the average person, by simply trying to listen.

The aim of the Occupational Therapy was to assist her with her sensory sensitivity.

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However, she had already developed her own coping skills, such as following a soft touch with a hard touch, for example, if something brushed against her shoulder she would then ‘smack’ her open hand on that spot to stop the irritation, applying a scented lip balm underneath her nose if she found a smell to be overpowering her senses.

Small but effective skills that have worked to this day.

The best results were achieved with weekly Speech Therapy sessions which boosted my daughter’s confidence and helped her to cope with her daily challenges.

Dancing, playing musical instruments, singing and acting all added to building up her confidence and finding her place in the world.

Truth is, she may have a learning disability, but that little “flaw” has been a defining factor in transforming her into the unique and interesting individual she is today.

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Written by Angelina Angileri

As a single mom of four incredible children, Angie always says that she has a PHD in “Surviving Life”. Having worked in both the health and financial industry, she eventually found that writing not only “feeds every fiber of her soul” but also hopes that sharing her story and “mamy” skills will inspire other mommies out there.