The Basics of Central Auditory Processing Disorder

Central Auditory Processing Disorder, or CAPD, is a hearing disorder in which the trouble lies not with the ears, but with the brain. The person with CAPD hears sounds correctly but something adversely affects the way their brain recognizes and interprets the sounds, especially the sounds associated with speech. That’s why the disorder is sometimes summarized as an ear-brain coordination problem.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder is a condition that afflicts an estimated 2% to 5% of children of school age, and as many as 50% of children who have been diagnosed as having a learning disability. Children with CAPD often fail to recognize subtle differences between the sounds of different words, even though the words are clear and loud enough for them to hear. This inability to understand words often becomes worse in noisy environments, but is not as present in quiet environments.

CAPD is often difficult to detect, because when children’s hearing is tested in a quiet room, they can clearly hear the pure tones they hear through the testing equipment, and they similarly have no apparent problems hearing and interpreting speech in non-noisy environments. Consequently, their audiogram test results may appear normal when in real-life situations they are having difficulty locating the source of a sound, discriminating similar sounds or hearing more than one person speaking at the same time.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder often affects children in other aspects of life because they are having trouble understanding the people speaking around them. For example, they may become easily distracted by sudden noises, have difficulty following directions, develop reading, spelling, and language difficulties, become disorganized and forgetful, or have trouble following conversations. When given standard hearing tests, these children appear to have normal hearing, so these symptoms are often confused with or mistaken for signs of other problems such as depression or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The situation is complicated by the fact that CAPD is often present along with these other disorders.

Early detection of CAPD is critical, because to ensure the child’s proper social and educational development, the sooner the problems are diagnosed, the sooner they can be treated. Early diagnosis is key to ensuring that the condition is resolved, which is why it is important, if you have noticed any of the above symptoms in your children, to have their hearing professionally tested.

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