An auditory processing disorder (APD) can go undetected for a long while -- especially in children who are smart enough to learn to compensate for their issues. Frequently, the auditory processing disorder is dismissed early on as a child's "daydreaming" or even just being focused on whatever he or she is doing to the exclusion of all other activities.
It may not be until the child is older when someone suggests that the child is either suffering from hearing loss or an auditory processing disorder. If you're the parent suddenly faced with this situation, what do you do next?
First, Get a Hearing Evaluation
Hearing loss can be subtle and occur at young ages -- especially if your child has a history of ear infections. The first step toward unraveling the puzzle of why your child can't seem to hear as well as other children is to have him or her evaluated by an audiologist.
The hearing tests are painless and will likely include several variations that can pinpoint specific disorders. For example, the pure-tone test checks for the highest and lowest frequencies your child can detect in each ear by having him or her listen for high and low sounds through headphones.
That can help the audiologist determine if there is a problem with your child picking up certain pitches in one or both ears. A problem with hearing a high pitch could, for example, make it harder for your child to understand instructions from a young female teacher with a higher-pitched voice.
Speech testing helps the audiologist confirm the results of the pure-tone test. Your child will listen to words being said at different pitches to determine if he or she can understand what is being said at those pitches.
There are other hearing tests that can help identify additional problems. For example, tympanometry helps check for physical problems that could be affecting hearing -- like ear wax blockages, holes in the eardrum, or fluid caught in the middle ear. If those problems are detected, they can usually be easily fixed with fairly simple procedures.
Second, See a Speech-Language Pathologist
If all the hearing tests come back normal, that indicates your child may be suffering from APD. Basically, he or she has difficulty making sense out of what he or she hears even though his or her hearing is essentially normal.
While you may ultimately have to involve a neuro-psychiatrist for an even more complete evaluation, a speech-language pathologist is a great place to start. Feel free to suggest the possibility of an auditory processing disorder as something that needs to be ruled in or out as a diagnosis. Most school systems employ speech-language pathologists to help evaluate students with special needs, so you may want to start with your child's school to get things going.
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