Listen up – or maybe not
Imagine a presenter is giving important information – for example, instructions you’ll have to act on as soon as she’s done talking. But you’re having trouble understanding what she’s saying, because one or more of these things is happening:
- There’s something wrong with the sound system: static, a background hum, or the presenter sounds like she’s talking through a long tube.
- Some of the people seated around you are talking.
- Off and on, you hear the sounds of heavy equipment being used outside.
- The presenter speaks too fast, and/or mumbles occasionally, and/or has a heavy accent.
- There’s just too much information for you to remember all of it.
Minutes pass. You’re trying to listen, but you’re only getting maybe 20% of the information you need, and you’re not even sure you’ve heard it right.
And then the presenter says, “OK, go.”
How do you feel? Frustrated? Lost?
Now imagine everyone else in the room seems to know what to do: they hurry off in different directions.
How do you feel about yourself now?
What if every day in school were like that for you? At what point would you give up? If you were a teenager with a need to look cool, how would you act?
That’s what life can be like for a teen with an Auditory Processing Disorder. Often there’s nothing wrong with their physical ability to hear: the sounds are hitting the eardrum and getting conveyed to the brain just fine. But there’s a bunch of things that can go haywire in the listening process, including these, among others: separating background noise from the important stuff, being able to distinguish between similar-sounding words, being able to fill in what was said if short gaps were inaudible, and remembering all that was said. (If you look at the spiffy diagram at the bottom of the page, we’re talking about things going wrong at numbers 5 and 6.)
It’s along the same lines as having a visual processing disorder, which was discussed in a previous blog post: a person can have good eyesight, but there can be one or more malfunctions in how easily the brain processes what the eyes are seeing.
Although we don’t hear as much about APD as we do about, say, dyslexia, I’ve heard about it twice in the last few months. Jill Stowell, of Stowell Learning Center, touched on it at the conference I attended in February. More recently, Laurie Hagberg, an academic success program coordinator, shared an online binder of resources she’d compiled about APD in the LinkedIn group “Understand Special Needs from the Inside” (be sure to check out the “Simulation” tab in the binder).
The more I learn about APD, the more I wonder whether our younger son Alan might be affected. He has some of the behaviors associated with APD, and some of the risk factors. Hmmm.
By the way, the book Kids in the Syndrome Mix by Martin L. Kutscher includes a very helpful chapter about Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), as it is also known.
From all of the above sources, plus a Google search, I’ve gleaned some things about Auditory Processing Disorder you may want to know:
- Not all teens who (seem to) constantly say “huh?” or “what?” have APD – but some of them do.
- Estimates vary that anywhere from 3% to 20% of the population have an Auditory Processing Disorder. It is more common in boys. And of course, there may be co-occurring conditions as well.
- The symptoms can look an awful lot like ADHD, but it’s not the same: the person with APD does have the ability to pay attention, if the auditory message is getting through. Similarly, the executive functions of the brain work OK, but the individual may not be fully understanding oral instructions – and that’s why it seems like s/he isn’t good at following instructions.
- Among the symptoms of APD: difficulty hearing when there’s background noise, difficulty following conversations or verbal instructions, misinterpreting what’s said, being easily distracted by noise.
- A person with APD may talk a lot, to minimize the time s/he has to try to listen!
- In addition to causing attention problems (giving up paying attention after it becomes too exhausting), Auditory Processing Disorder can affect memory, comprehension, reading, spelling, relationships, confidence, and well-being.
- It’s not an easy diagnosis to make, so we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about who has it. An audiologist or other professional with specialized training would have to perform several tests and get extensive background information about the patient before making a diagnosis.
- Much of the information out there talks about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment in children. Fine, but what about teens and adults: is it too late for them? The answer is no; but as with many conditions, the earlier in life you start dealing with it, the better. Some of us may have missed that boat. Here is a link, from the UK, geared for teens wanting to learn more about APD.
- There are adaptions and modifications that can be used in the classroom and elsewhere for a student with APD. These could be specified in the student’s 504 plan or IEP. Coming up with ways to compensate often leads to better outcomes.
- There are therapies that can actually improve the person’s ability to process auditory information. From what I read, they are not one-size-fits-all, so the therapy may need to be tailored to the individual’s specific deficits in order to be effective. The Stowell Learning Center has had success with a therapy involving music, as described in this link and in this one. Other therapies may be available from specially-trained audiologists, clinicians, or other centers that help students with learning disabilities.
So, if you are baffled by poor school performance or poor direction-following in a teen or young adult in your life, you may want to take a look at some of the information out there on APD. It could be the first step to figuring out what’s going on with the guy or gal who doesn’t seem to be listening. (“Huh?”)