The ability to hear sounds is a large part of our development. From a very early age, we are hardwired to listen intently to our loved ones as they speak.
We hear their words, just combinations of letter sounds, and seek to interpret them based on numerous developmental cues.
Over time we learn to recognize words and associate them with their objects.
Before you know it, we speak, participate in conversations, and learn more about the world around us.
Unfortunately, this learning process gets halted for some people.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a condition that interferes with the hearing process, disrupting the way the brain recognizes sounds and interprets speech.
Thankfully, in some cases, hearing aids are viable options to help those with APD. Here we take a closer look at APD and when hearing aids may be useful.
A Closer Look at Auditory Processing Disorder
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is known by different names: Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), Auditory Perceptual Disorder, and Central Auditory Disorder.
Since APD is a condition that affects hearing, most assume it is a form of hearing loss.
This assumption is incorrect. APD is also not classified as a type of learning disability.
In short, APD affects the auditory centers of the brain. It interferes with how the brain recognizes and interprets sounds, including speech. There is a disconnect between the ears and the brain; they don’t coordinate as they should.
What Are the Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder?
Individuals that have APD have difficulty hearing the small sound differences that are present in words.
For example, instead of hearing “pat,” they may hear the word “bat.”
According to the American Academy of Audiology, these are some common symptoms of auditory processing disorder:
- Having a hard time filtering out unimportant sounds in speech.
- Difficulty remembering what is heard.
- Trouble understanding and remembering the order of sounds.
- Difficulty understanding where words are coming from.
- Trouble following multi-step or verbal directions.
- Difficulty participating in or following along in conversations.
These are just a few examples of some common symptoms associated with APD.
Although APD can present in older adults, the condition is more prevalent in children. According to Nemours, it affects roughly three to five percent of school-aged children.
One can only imagine how detrimental this condition can be for children trying to function in a learning environment.
In a classroom setting, children may have difficulty listening to the teacher’s voice and instruction instead of the background noise that fills a classroom.
Children with APD often mishear sounds and words, affecting their ability to master phonics. The classroom can be extremely overwhelming for children with APD.
A Misunderstood Disorder
Since its symptoms are similar to those found in other disorders (such as autism disorder, dyslexia, etc.), APD is often misunderstood and undiagnosed.
In many cases, the symptoms of APD can also be hidden by other issues or conditions, such as speech-language delays or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The only sure way to diagnose APD is to consult with a hearing professional, such as an audiologist or related specialists.
What Causes Auditory Processing Disorder?
Doctors and researchers have not reached a consensus on the exact cause of APD.
But it is associated and linked with certain co-factors.
Some evidence suggests it could be associated with head trauma in children, chronic ear infections, or seizure disorders.
Evidence points to prenatal issues and family hereditary as well.
How Is Auditory Processing Disorder Diagnosed?
APD requires an audiological diagnosis, meaning hearing care professionals like audiologists must make the definitive diagnosis.
These professionals are trained to administer hearing tests, collect auditory information, and interpret auditory data.
Special auditory tests that assess auditory processing function must be performed to get a conclusive diagnosis.
However, an auditory specialist may also physically examine ear structures to rule out abnormalities.
In addition to auditory testing, hearing-health professionals will collect a case history by gathering details and asking various questions.
This is where insights from parents and teachers will be helpful when diagnosing school-aged children.
Managing and Treating Auditory Processing Disorder
There is no quick fix or easy button for treating and managing APD.
Treatment options are specific to each individual; what works for one may not work for another.
Managing APD often requires a group of professionals working in tandem, from audiologists, speech-language pathologists, teachers, and more.
Tools and strategies for treating APD could include the following:
- Changing the Environmental Conditions. For a student, this could involve something as simple as choosing a new seat in the front of the classroom. Also, simply asking people to speak slower may be a useful strategy. Opting for written instructions over verbal ones may also help.
- Auditory Training With Professionals. Auditory training can teach individuals strategies for learning to hear sounds better. This may include strategies for distinguishing phonemes, recognizing where sounds are coming from, or other hearing-related skills.
- Assistive Listening Technology. Using assistive listening devices like frequency modulation (FM) systems can help manage APD. It only requires a speaker to wear a wireless microphone that transmits sounds into a receiver placed in the ear.
In addition to these tools and strategies, hearing aid amplification may also benefit those living with APD. But when is the right time to try hearing aids?
Do Hearing Aids Help Auditory Processing Disorder?
As we’ve already seen, auditory processing disorder is not synonymous with hearing loss.
So why hearing aids? The bottom line is that APD affects the auditory system and disrupts normal hearing. In that sense, it can qualify as a sort of hearing impairment.
In addition to the assistive technologies mentioned above (remote microphone systems), individuals with APD may also benefit from using low-gain hearing aids.
When specialists recommend low-gain hearing aids, these are often in combination with an accessory remote microphone for maximum benefit.
What Are Low-Gain Hearing Aids?
In short, low-gain hearing aids are regular hearing aids to enhance speech.
They are programmed by a trained audiologist and can make loud sounds quieter while reducing background noise — two important factors for those with APD.
In addition to treating APD, low-gain hearing aids are beneficial for conditions like tinnitus, autism and sensory processing disorders, hyperacusis (hypersensitivity to noise and sound), and more.
Low-gain hearing aids allow APD users to concentrate on the sounds they want to hear while managing or toning down reverberation or background noises.
Low-Gain Hearing Aids and FM Systems
Low-gain hearing aids can benefit those with APD, especially in the classroom. Until recently, students with APD had to rely solely on FM systems (remote microphones).
Now, low-gain hearing aids are used in conjunction with FM systems. Auditory studies have shown a marked improvement in classroom listening when FM systems are in conjunction with low-gain hearing aids.
Additional Benefits of Using Low-Gain Hearing Aids for APD
In addition to their benefits within the classroom setting, low-gain hearing aids boast other helpful features.
For example, some low-gain hearing aids feature Bluetooth-enabled technology, which can automatically connect to numerous devices.
Also, some low-gain hearing aids feature noise reduction settings and a directional microphone, which could be beneficial when dialing up the right hearing sensitivity setting.
Other associated benefits for those with APD could include:
- Less auditory fatigue from struggling to listen.
- Mood improvement and lower stress.
- Better accuracy in speech articulation.
- Improvement in ability to remember things as presented.
- Decreased delays in auditory processing.
- Better ability to locate sounds, especially in noisy environments.
Correctly interpreting sounds and speech have major consequences on how we develop. Auditory processing disorder disrupts this process. It is a condition that interferes with the natural hearing process.
Although APD is not a form of hearing loss in the medical sense, it does benefit from some of the same technologies — hearing aids being one. Low-gain hearing aids can benefit those with APD both in and out of the classroom.
The only way to truly know if low-gain hearing aids are right for you or a loved one with APD is to consult an auditory professional. They can give you insights into whether hearing aids could be a viable option.
For more helpful articles on all things hearing and taking control of your health, explore the rest of the USA Rx blog here.
References, Studies and Sources:
Remote Microphone Hearing Aid Use Improves Classroom Listening, Without Adverse Effects on Spatial Listening and Attention Skills, in Children With Auditory Processing Disorder: A Randomised Controlled Trial | NIH