“The hearing is fine, but the message is not coming through clearly”: This may well be the best way to describe one of the most common forms of learning disorders found in special education. Auditory processing disorder is a condition often associated with creating a specific learning disorder in children and adults; yet, it is not as well known or as properly diagnosed as other disorders such as ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, or Autism. The conditions are for the most part mild and can be treated through proper use of accommodations done by a regular or special education teacher.
Hearing pitches or tones is not a problem for students with this condition. Many of them can hear at the same level as their non-disabled peers. However, the problem comes in terms of processing sound into meaningful information in a timely manner.
Normally, auditory processing is quick. The sound enters the ears, travel through to the brain by means of auditory nerves and is processed into information. Once students hear a word, like “cat,” they almost instantly think of an image is associated with the spoken word. In other words, an image of a furry four-legged pet comes to mind.
Students with auditory processing disorder will also hear the word “cat”; however, the processing turning into meaningful information takes longer. It’s as if the “direct link” from the ear to the brain has been circumvented or is not in a hypothetical straight line. The time it takes for information to be processed can last a few seconds longer than what is considered normal. Also, the process is not clean. While the students with auditory processing disorder may have heard the word “cat” mentioned, it may have been processed as “zat”.
Although the condition is mild, it can generate a lot of confusion with phonemic awareness, memory problems, and sequencing. Most often, children with this condition may appear to be slow, have trouble grasping an oral lesson or lecture given by a teacher, and be distracted.
Students with this condition will also have a difficult time concentrating in a noisy classroom. These students will have a difficult time processing multiple auditory cues. Chattering students or distracting noises outside the classroom can affect their ability to concentrate on a lecture from the teacher.
Also, the condition, at times, can mimic other learning disorders. It’s not uncommon for students with this condition to be misdiagnosed with ADD, for they will appear to be not paying attention or distracted (especially when there is the presence of multiple auditory cues in the classroom).
The condition is treatable, at least in the classroom. Accommodations such as having the student seated near the teacher, the use of visual cues to support lectures, repetition, and allowance of time for processing information have proven to be useful. Also, these accommodations are often listed in the accommodation/modification pages of an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Technology has also helped to treat this condition. In some school districts, students with auditory processing disorders and their teachers are using an FM receiver/transmitter device. The students wear a head-set and receiver – looking very much like an Mp3 player (or to be more precise like a 1980s version of a Sony Walkman). The teachers have a microphone around their neck which transmits their voice directly to the students with the receiver.
There are no known causes for auditory processing. Some research indicates it may be genetic. Others suggest it’s environmental or a result of a birth defect. Other indications seem to indicate that the condition is not permanent for everyone who has it. Some may have had delayed development in the area of the brain where auditory information is processed.
Still, for others, the condition is permanent. While for these people it can last a life-time, they may form learning techniques to get around it.
Auditory Processing Disorder is often at the root of the cause of specific learning disorders in students. Still, it is not a serious enough condition to hold back students with it from learning. Many will need to form new ways to learn or seek accommodations or technology to aid them in school.