Auditory Processing Disorder

Symptoms of and treatments for kids with APD

“Huh?” “What?” If your child can’t seem to follow oral instructions, struggles with reading and spelling, and frequently has difficulty understanding what people say to him, it’s possible that auditory processing disorder (APD) is the culprit.

Click here for "When Words Get in the Way," the full original Old Schoolhouse Magazine interview with Lindsey Simpson, plus more input from speech language pathologist Shelley Yada.

Though people with APD have fully functional ears, they experience a disconnect between the ears and the brain, where hearing actually takes place, and they have trouble distinguishing and isolating sound and sound patterns. Incoming words are confusing; they sound garbled and often are misunderstood. This can lead to a host of issues ranging from roadblocks in decoding phonics to attention and behavioral problems that stem from an inability to follow along in class.

Lindsey Simpson knows the challenges APD brings firsthand. The coauthor of Same Journey, Different Paths: Stories of Auditory Processing Disorder struggled in school until the 7th grade, when a tutor recognized several telling APD symptoms and she was diagnosed with the disorder, along with a reading disability.   

APD symptoms

APD specialist/speech language pathologist Shelley Yada, MA, CCC-SLP, details the five most common APD symptoms.

  1. The child has difficulty understanding/following directions and often needs instructions repeated.
  2. He is easily overwhelmed, especially in noisy environments.
  3. He learns better when information is presented visually.
  4. His expressive language is disorganized — for example, he may tell stories out of order.
  5. He has difficulty understanding sarcasm.

Because these symptoms can point to many conditions, APD is often mistaken for everything from ADHD to hearing loss. The challenge in pinpointing APD is compounded by the fact that proper diagnosis can occur only after age 7. 

“In order to separate true auditory processing from language, attention or sensory integration, the audiologist uses a variety of very specific tasks,” Yada explains. “Children under 7 simply have not developed the cognitive skills needed in order to understand what they are being asked to do during the evaluation. 

After her APD diagnosis, Simpson says, “I remember feeling on top of the world. It was a relief that there was a reason for my struggles and that it wasn’t my ‘fault’ for having such a hard time in school. After that, I started getting accommodations and things became much easier on me.”

Next page: ways to accommodate APD


Accommodate APD

Once a diagnosis is made, parents and teachers have a bevy of strategies to help kids with APD succeed.

  • In school, have his teacher move his seat up to the front of the class and use visual cues as often as possible. If distraction continues, look into assistive listening devices that amplify sound or ear plugs to limit background noise.
  • At home, “Present information visually and verbally; show your child what you are asking of him,” says Yada. Simpson did this by studying with “plenty of pictures and colors.”
  • Maintain a quiet study environment with no distractions.
  • Ensure that your child take a 5-minute break every 45 minutes or so, to give him time to  rest his brain and process what he’s learned.
  • APD presents differently in every student, so consult a professional audiologist or speech therapist about which treatments are best for your child. Simpson found success with a tutoring program called Learning Rx, which utilizes cognitive exercises (there’s a local center in Cherry Hill, NJ). Yada likes specialized listening programs such as “Therapeutic Listening”; auditory training computer programs like “Earobics” or “Fast ForWord”; and two programs, Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking and LiPS, taught at Lindamood-Bell centers (locally in Wilmington, DE, and Bryn Mawr, PA).
  • Be patient. “If your child is not following directions, remember that it may be because he didn’t process the information, not necessarily because he is trying to be difficult,” says Yada. “I remember it became very frustrating for my mother — and me — when I couldn’t understand,” says Simpson. “Don’t give up on your child when it’s tough.”   

Nanci Smith is a homeschooling mother of six, two with special needs. This article is adapted from a piece in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

Categories: Health, Special Needs Parenting