Guest Blogs

Rosie O’Donnell and “The Sound of Hope” Have Me Wondering: What if My Child Has Auditory Processing Disorder?

It took years for Rosie O’Donnell to get both an accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment for her son’s auditory processing disorder (APD). Her experiences inspired the new book, “The Sound of Hope,” which aims to raise awareness about this condition that often coexists with ADHD. And it has, at least with me.

Auditory processing disorder (APD) has been all over the news these days, thanks in part to Rosie O’Donnell’s revelation that her 10-year-old son, Blake, is living with the condition, which affects the brain’s ability to distinguish differences in sounds. Rosie’s years-long journey toward getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for Blake’s APD inspired the new book The Sound of Hope: Recognizing, Coping with, and Treating Your Child’s Auditory Processing Disorder (by speech and language pathologist Lois Kam Heymann, foreward by Rosie O’Donnell).

When Rosie realized that the work auditory therapist Kam Heyman was doing with Blake was literally “saving” him, she knew she had to spread the word, both about the existence of the little-known disorder and the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.

Since experts believe that half of children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also living with APD, The Sound of Hope and its subject matter are of particular interest to those of us in the ADHD and learning disabilities (LD) community. My copy arrived in the mail today, and I’m dying to read it!

While waiting for the book, I read an article about it, and watched a couple of video clips of Rosie talking about Blake and his treatment for APD (Click here to watch Rosie describing her son’s APD and how therapy helped — don’t you just love it the way Rosie calls him Blakey?), so I’ve learned a little about the disorder, and with that little bit of knowledge, I began to recognize the overlap between ADHD and APD in my daughter, Natalie. It’s clear to me that something troublesome is going on between Nat’s ears and her brain’s reaction to what comes through them. Whether that “something” is a component of ADHD, or is actually APD, remains, for now, a mystery — one I hope to solve soon. In the meantime, here are a few examples of that “something”:

She’s been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder (SPD) and is sensitive to loud sounds. In two recent “ADHD Comedy Hour” posts, I joked about Nat confusing words that sound similar — hammock and hamper; ADHD and Adidas. Compare that to Rosie’s example of how “Little Red Riding Hood” might sound to a person with APD: “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.” Words that are perfectly intelligible to you and me come out like gibberish (or are confused with similar words) to APD listeners.

According to The Sound of Hope, Children are more at risk for APD if they were born prematurely, with complications, or were neglected or isolated after birth. All of the above apply to Natalie, who was born six weeks early, and then spent her first two and a half years of life in an orphanage in Russia.

In preschool, children with APD have difficulty following directions, forming sentences, and learning vocabulary; they also drop sounds and syllables from words they do say, according to The Sound of Hope. When reading, Nat often leaves off the “s” at the end of plural words, or drops other endings, which strikes me as a similar phenomenon.

Like Blake, Natalie was a late talker. Given her deprived background, I blamed this on lack of stimulation. Was it also a sign of APD?

As I put these and other clues together, I began to wonder — make that worry — does Natalie have APD? Has she been going without important treatment? In my mind, I replayed Rosie, in the video, saying, “What would have happened if we hadn’t caught it, and treated it? He would have been lost.” I began to catastrophize the situation.

Then, I realized I needed to slow down. I reminded myself that Natalie is, and has been, receiving the best services available in our area — speech therapy, occupational therapy, special education services, evaluation and therapy with a psychologist, treatment by a child psychiatrist — and I know that, just as ADHD overlaps with APD, aspects of their treatment overlap, too. I halted my overwhelming Internet searching, refocused and limited my quest for APD info on reading The Sound of Hope, and made a conscious choice to put my bad-mom-why-didn’t-you-get-your-kid-the-help-that-she-needs guilt on (temporary) hold.

I’ll take a (long) list of questions to our next appointment with Nat’s psychologist. Should Natalie be tested for APD? If she has it, why didn’t someone identify it before now? She’s nearly 10 — is it already too late to help her? Who would test and treat her? What would treatment and school accommodations look like? How much would treatment cost? My gut tells me that the answers will leave me reassured, not shattered.

If Rosie’s goal is to raise APD awareness, she’s already succeeded, at least with me.

Is your child diagnosed with APD? If so, how long did the process take and what advice do you have? For others like me, who are still unsure, check back for updates — I’ll be here to share what I learn.