Is a conversation with your child filled with a stream of "huh" or "what?" In crowded surroundings does your child seem lost and off topic? Is teaching phonics and clear speaking an ongoing struggle in your home? You think there is a problem with hearing, but the tests come back normal? There may not be a hearing issue; there may be a sound processing issue. You may be dealing with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), formerly called Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD).

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a processing disorder of the brain. The ears hear, but the brain does not translate or interpret that information correctly. There are several sub-types that make up APD (see below). APD is like a half-heard song or a radio filled with static: only parts of the song get through, and you lose some understanding of the message. This is made worse by ambient noises and distractions.

For example: You say: "It's time to go. Get your coat on."

Your child hears, "It's dime to (rustling of purse and coat together drowns out part) tote on."

Your child stands there doing nothing. After a minute or so he responds, "What?"  

This seems like disobedience from the parent's point of view. After all, it is reasonable to think most children are able to put on a coat and get ready to leave. We don't understand that the child was confused by what was just said and is now frustrated that he or she is getting in trouble for not obeying. Understanding APD is the first step to correcting this problem and helping your child get back on track! 

Gabriel, my son, had problems with his hearing on and off. He seemed to fail a hearing test and then pass the next, only to repeat the same thing at his next yearly appointment. We found that if he was tested in the loud, distracting doctor's office he failed, but in a quiet audiologist's testing room he passed. Frustration marked our early struggles with APD. Gabriel's speech was slurred, but we were assured that typically boys' speech developed slowly. However, when he reached 5 years of age and could barely be understood by us, his parents, we knew it was time to ask for help.  

Children who appear to have APD need some basic testing. First, you need to have your child's hearing tested. Have your child's doctor check for organic problems, such as fluid in the ear, hearing loss, etc. before testing for APD. APD testing is rather involved and expensive. This is a decision you should discuss with your pediatrician, speech therapist, or audiologist; their input can help you make a wise decision. One factor you should keep in mind is that currently a child cannot definitively be tested for APD until he is about age 8 or 9 years old, although your child's problems will probably be obvious long before that.

An APD diagnosis is still rather "new," and a clear path of treatment has not been established yet. Some suggestions and methods of teaching have resulted in an improvement in an APD child's ability to successfully process auditory input. Treatment is generally broken down into environmental modifications, remediation (direct therapy), and compensation.

Environmental factors can be easily and sucessfully addressed by homeschoolers. Turn off all ambient noise, such as a fan or television in a nearby room. If you have other children, schedule one-to-one time to tackle new or challenging subjects. If you go to a co-op or church, seat your child near the speaker or directly in front of the speaker so that your child can lip-read. APD kids can unconsciously learn to lip-read, so take advantage of this skill!

Remediation is directly applied therapy. If you are blessed to live near an audiologist who specializes in APD, he can provide therapy. You will most likely actually be dealing with a speech therapist who has experience with helping children who have been diagnosed with APD. There are also software programs you can get for use at home. Fast ForWord (http://www.scilearn.com/) is expensive, but it worked well for my son. We also used Earobics (www.earobics.com), which is available separately for elementary, middle school, and teen/adult levels. Earobics is less expensive and easy to use at home, and on their site they have additional free games that you can try. Intensive sound therapy can help keep your child's skills on track.