Auditory Processing Disorder

How to Treat Auditory Processing Disorder

Children and adults alike may struggle with the comprehension, communication, and focus challenges inherent in auditory processing disorder. Treatments and therapies vary as much as symptoms do, but they can all begin with this overview of options.

I Can't Hear Illo
Illustration of an ear that can't hear

Treatments for auditory processing disorder may include modifying the environment to reduce or eliminate certain sounds, teaching skills to compensate for the disorder, and working with an audiologist to improve the auditory deficit itself. In some cases, a patient may use an electronic device to aid in listening as well.

APD can be treated from childhood through adolescence – when the auditory pathways stop developing – and even later, though experts agree that the earlier the diagnosis and treatment, the better.

A combination of professional, school, and home therapies with a speech pathologist is most effective. There is not one magical, cure-all method to relieve symptoms.

Treating APD with Therapy

Compensatory strategy approaches help people with APD take responsibility for listening success and failure with active listening and problem-solving techniques. These can include strategies as simple as teaching students to ask for clarification or repetition of instructions.

Speech therapy can improve reading and language comprehension. People with APD have difficulty differentiating sounds. They may mishear, or mis-say ‘that’ for ‘cat,’ or ‘dead’ for ‘bed,’ for example. Working with a trained therapist can improve their ability to make and understand these sounds. Therapy includes a wide variety of exercises that target specific auditory deficits and may range from computer-assisted software programs like Fast ForWord and Earobics to one-on-one training with a speech and language therapist.

When working with children, a professional therapist will commonly use these techniques:

  • To overcome sound discrimination problem, the professional will train your child’s brain to differentiate sounds — first in a quiet environment, then with increasingly louder background noise.
  • To sharpen auditory memory, an audiologist will use sequencing routines — having your child repeat a series of numbers and directions — to exercise the listening “muscles.”
  • To manage language-processing problems, the therapist will train and encourage your child to ask a teacher, adult, or peer to repeat or rephrase an instruction or comment. The therapist and your child might also work on developing a customized note-taking system that enables him to capture the information being taught in the classroom.

The type, frequency, and intensity of therapy should be tailored to the intensity and type of APD present.

Treating APD with Medication

Auditory processing disorder is a neurological problem that cannot be treated by medication.

Treating APD with Lifestyle Changes

Since auditory processing difficulties vary based on surroundings and development, its therapies vary by setting and age as well. The following lifestyle changes can make a difference for children and adults with APD.

At school, teachers can:

  • Improve classroom acoustics. APD makes it hard to screen out background noise. Adding bookshelves, carpeting, and drapes to a classroom absorbs the extra sound.
  • Seat children near the front of the class, away from an open door or a pencil sharpener or other classroom items that make noise, like fans or fish tanks.
  • Provide attention prompts. Periodically touch her shoulder to remind her to focus.
  • Streamline communication. Establish eye contact and insert pauses to allow time for sorting information. Ask questions to see if the child is following the lesson, and rephrase material that has been misunderstood.
  • Use visual aids. Jot instructions or key words on the board, and provide simple written or pictorial outlines.
  • Build in breaks. Children with CAPD have to work harder than do other kids to pay attention, and may need more frequent downtime to consolidate information.
  • Use a microphone and headset. The teacher’s voice is amplified through a microphone connected to the student’s headset. This helps to focus attention on the teacher.
  • Ask children, “What are you going to do? What did I ask you to do?” This will give teachers a chance to determine if children have misheard directions.

At home, parents of kids with APD can:

  • Boost auditory attention with games and tapes. Games like Simple Simon teach a listening strategy and provide a chance to practice. A story tape, such as Peter Pan, can have the same benefit. Each time Captain Hook sees the crocodile, have your child raise his hand.
  • Look ahead. Go over the basic concepts in upcoming assignments and help your child learn any new words that show up.
  • Develop routines. Provide a structure to help your child focus in chaotic environments. Before going to his school locker, for instance, have him check his assignment book and list what he needs to take home.

At home, family members of adults with APD can:

  • Eliminate distracting noises (turn off the TV or computer) before speaking with your partner.
  • Touch your partner on the arm or shoulder before speaking, allowing him time to shift his focus from what he was doing to the conversation you are having.
  • Ask your partner to repeat what you’ve said, to make sure it was understood.
  • Speak concisely, eliminating superfluous detail.
  • Use relaxation techniques to clear your mind before important conversations.
  • For some topics, e-mail works best.

Support groups – both online and in person – can help parents and adults connect with people who are experiencing similar difficulties, and give ideas of treatment or accommodations that have helped.