Is It Just Another Label?

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As APD becomes more widely talked about, it’s important to understand its effects on learning.

Auditory Processing Disorder—is it just another label? Or is there scientific research that has raised our awareness of the deficit? In light of the growing body of evidence, APD can pose a risk to a child’s learning and development if left unchecked. Here’s what the science says about sound processing, APD and how to respond if your child may have APD.

What Is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Auditory processing is defined as a neurological communication between the ears and the brain. It helps us make sense of what we hear, whether it's noise or speech. To process audio, the brain must identify the sounds and where they’re coming from. It then analyses those sounds to give them meaning. 

Proper auditory processing is critical to learning and communication. It allows the brain to save, organise, and understand information from what we hear.

With Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), the brain is unable to process sound correctly. The person may have normal hearing capabilities. The problem lies in how the person understands the sounds they hear.

History of Auditory Processing Disorders

Diagram showing a timeline overview of current research evidence for audiologists.

APD was first identified in 1954, when it was originally called Auditory Perceptual Disorder. Its cause remains unknown, but there are a few theories. 

One is that many children with APD also had multiple ear infections earlier in life. Another shares that children with APD often have language development disruptions or delays. The cause may be due to environmental concerns, such as lead exposure or poisoning. Others believe it could be caused by vaccinations, while some experts think APD could be hereditary. In many cases, children with APD often have siblings with learning deficits.

While the cause (or causes) of APD are still being explored, the growing interest is spurring more conversations around this learning deficit. Greater attention to APD can help support the case for more scientific research and lead to solutions for mitigating or resolving APD effects.

The Science of Sound

When sound enters the ears to go to the brain, the signal goes through the brainstem, then moves to both sides of the brain via the central auditory system. After entering the cortex, the brain is able to recognise various features of sound, called phonemes. The phonemes allow the brain to distinguish words from other sounds. In other words, the brain recognises when it’s hearing speech versus random noises. 

An auditory deficit like APD interrupts this travel of sound in the brain. As a result, the person might experience listening difficulties and comprehension, even when their hearing abilities are fine. 

Impacts of APD on Learning and Development

It’s estimated that 3-5% of all children have an APD of some degree. The impact of APD on learning can vary across various ages and development stages and can be quite significant in some cases. The brain’s ability to process auditory information directly affects a person’s ability to understand and retain information — both of which are crucial to ongoing development. 

A child with APD may struggle to understand spoken language. They may also have trouble recalling verbal instructions or following along when read aloud to. Because APD is often mistaken for poor listening skills or other learning challenges, it’s important to bring this topic into light so parents and teachers can take the proper next best action.

Diagnosis and Assessment of Auditory Processing Disorder

APD is usually diagnosed once a child starts school. However, if at any time you notice any potential symptoms of poor listening or a lack of understanding when spoken to, it’s best to contact your GP or paediatrician for advice. Your GP might refer you to an audiologist to test your child’s hearing, as well as do an auditory processing assessment. 

An auditory processing assessment involves several short listening tests, such as listening to and repeating sounds and words. The audiologist uses equipment to change the sounds or add background noise and make them harder to understand. 

What Is the Earliest Age a Child Can Engage in an Evaluation?

By age five, most children can engage in an auditory processing evaluation. However, some schools do not start these evaluations until age seven. Starting remediation as early as possible is crucial to mitigating the effects of APD, which is why it’s recommended to evaluate early. An evaluation can identify areas where a child may need extra help for auditory development. A diagnosis usually isn’t given until ages six or seven. 

At Sound Storm, our mission is to help 25,000 children with APD by 2025. Our app is designed to support parents, teachers, and guardians. We aim to raise awareness about the impact of APD in school-aged children and provide early intervention through an engaging remediation app. We offer easy to follow information about APD to help them recognise the signs and understand that when APD is diagnosed by an Audiologist, a remediation path can be implemented. A remediation option for Spatial Processing Disorder, a specific type of APD, is Sound Storm. The Sound Storm app is clinically proven to remediate Spatial Processing Disorder in children when they complete the 10-week program. Together, we can help set the stage for a sound future!