Auditory Processing Disorder

What Does Auditory Processing Disorder Look Like in Children?

Do you repeat instructions and questions half a dozen times before your child responds? Do you need to write out each step of a sequence for your child? Do you wish you had a quarter for every time your child responded with “What?” Read on to learn how to recognize the signs of APD in your child.

Doctor audiologist testing child's ears on medical equipment for auditory processing disorder
Doctor audiologist testing girl's ears on medical equipment

Children with auditory processing disorder (APD) can generally focus and pay attention just fine — so long as they are in a quiet space. But because they are so exquisitely sensitive to sound, everything falls apart in loud, bustling environments with competing background noises. In fact, some sounds — a blender, a train engine, police sirens — can actually “hurt” a young child with APD, who may need to plug her ears before movie previews, for example.

Auditory processing disorder in children usually becomes apparent in the early grades, when children are expected to be active listeners. A young child with sound discrimination problems may be fidgety at story time, be overwhelmed in noisy settings, or mispronounce words. An older child with APD may have trouble reading because it involves the manipulation of sounds. Common symptoms, as described by Lois Kam Heymann. M.A., CCC-SLP, include:

  • Mental fatigue
  • Difficulty learning a foreign language
  • Poor memorization
  • Talking in short, choppy sentences
  • Delayed responses
  • Saying “Huh?” and “What?” often
  • Difficulty following multi-step directions
  • Difficulty hearing in noisy environments
  • Mishears sounds or words
  • Delayed language development
  • Distracted and inattentive
  • Social and communication difficulties
  • Difficulty learning to read
  • Poor spelling
  • Seems to be missing information

Sometimes, children outgrow certain aspects of APD as pathways in the ear mature.

Symptoms at Home

Symptoms of APD may present in a variety of ways. To differentiate between “just not listening” and signs of APD, study the list below:

  • Instead of listening to a bedtime story, your child prefers to look at books alone, in silence.
  • Your child is thrown into a panic when you start the lawn mower, or run the coffee grinder.
  • If the TV and music are on at the same time, your child covers his ears or starts crying.
  • Sounds from outside completely derail conversations around the dinner table.
  • When your child describes who she played with at recess, she can’t remember any names.
  • Sing-alongs on car rides just don’t happen in your family. Your child has trouble even humming to a tune.
  • Multi-step instructions, like, “Go upstairs, brush your teeth, get into your pajamas, and get in bed,” are too much.
  • “Huh?” and “What” are the words your child says most often.

Symptoms at School

Many children with APD have trouble learning at school because they don’t understand what they are being asked to do or comprehend. The following signs may suggest that APD is affecting learning:

  • Long after peers have mastered them, your child still mixes up similar sounding words like three/free, celery/salary, bed/dead.
  • Your child can’t remember the name of the librarian or art teacher.
  • Music class is a constant source of difficulty. Your child just can’t sing or hum along.
  • Unless the teacher breaks multi-part assignments into simple, digestible steps, your child gets lost and falls behind.
  • Though you know your child is smart, the teacher says she has difficulty explaining what she is thinking in class.
  • Figurative language, like similes and metaphors, mystify your child in language arts class.
  • Your child has gotten in trouble with teachers who thought he said, “What?” so often he was mocking them.
  • Jokes and social interactions on the playground are difficult for your child to understand.

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