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Auditory Processing Disorder:
What It Is and How It Affects Our Children
2002 Karen J. Foli

When our son, Ben, was three years old, my husband and I realized that Ben was severely delayed in his speech and language skills. The experts performed their tests and words like “autism” and “mental retardation” floated around us. We were desperate to unlock this puzzle. Why wasn’t our affectionate, bright child able to say his own name or engage with his world?
WHAT IS APD? Fortunately, we kept looking for answers and when my son was six years old, he was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder or APD. All the paradoxes of Ben’s behavior fell into place. Dr. Jack Katz, a pioneer in auditory processing research, described it as: “what we do with what we hear.” The child with APD is receives the sound, but the message is distorted and jumbled. Research continues as to the cause of this disorder.
PREVALENCE: Experts estimate that this disorder affects three million school-age children. Auditory Processing Disorder and attention problems can coexist, and to the casual observer, the symptoms of both AD/HD and APD can appear very similar: distractibility, inability to attend to tasks, and inability to follow directions.
A COMPLEX DISORDER: There are no known medications to treat APD, and children with APD present very differently. Speech and language may be affected. Other children may have difficulty tuning out background noise and being able to attend to the teacher speaking in a classroom. Since each child’s needs vary, management strategies need to be individualized. Finally, difficulties with auditory processing surface at different ages. The toddler who can’t speak or the kindergartner who can’t grasp basic phonics or the junior high school student who can’t take notes may all have some form of APD. This disorder has nothing to do with how intelligent a child is—many of these individuals are quite bright!
GETTING HELP: The person qualified to diagnose APD is the audiologist—but a routine hearing test won’t detect APD. When seeking an evaluation, make sure that the audiologist is trained in specific auditory processing tests and that a complete audio logical work-up is performed in order to make sure that the child’s hearing is normal. The APD test results will steer the management strategies. The audiologist often works very closely with a speech-language pathologist to design a treatment plan.
Today, my ten-year-old son, Ben, receives As and Bs in a regular classroom. He has friends and most importantly, is a happy child. To help him manage his APD, we utilized a combination of speech therapy, computer based auditory training programs, and multi-sensory language programs that enabled him to “feel” sounds as well as hear them. Remember, an individualized plan designed by the audiologist and speech-language pathologist will save time and frustration.

RESOURCES: For more information contact: The National Coalition of Auditory Processing Disorders ( ) The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (

About the Author:  Karen J. Foli is the author of LIKE SOUND THROUGH WATER: A Mother’s Journey Through Auditory Processing Disorder (Pocket Books, February 2002).  Find out more about this book and Karen’s background at .

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