Auditory Processing Deficits and Central Auditory Processing Disorders (C.A.P.D.)

Learning disabilities are related to the inadequate development of a number of processing areas.  Visual perceptual deficits have been a concern of educators over the years and there is a growing recognition that good auditory processing abilities are essential for successful academic progress and they can influence classroom behaviour.

Auditory acuity is the ability to detect the presence of sounds at various levels of intensity and frequency. It’s only one of many auditory abilities, yet it’s the only competency many teachers consider when evaluating a child’s listening skills.

Other auditory abilities are not as widely understood and not as easily addressed.

Auditory attention is the ability to direct and sustain attention to preferred sound messages. Those with auditory attention problems have difficulty selecting relevant from irrelevant sounds (poor auditory figure-ground ability).

Auditory memory is the ability to remember auditory sound patterns. Children build a reserve of previously learned sound patterns from which they recall and then interpret and integrate their auditory environment.

Auditory discrimination is the ability to detect similarities and differences between sounds. Those with poor discrimination may not, for example, be able to hear the difference between the words took and book.

Auditory synthesis (integration) is the ability to blend independent sound units into complete aural units (words) such as c-ar-t, or t-a-ble.

Auditory comprehension is the ability to decode and derive meaning from sound messages. This requires competence in several auditory abilities:  attention, memory, discrimination and integration.

Auditory-visual integration is the ability to integrate auditory and visual messages. Because sound is fleeting, visual stimuli often support the interpretation of sound.  Associating a picture or the printed word with the spoken word is an auditory-visual integration activity.

Children who have  auditory processing deficits often find reading, writing and spelling difficult because these skills require an ability to: recognize and distinguish between sounds in words; blend them together; separate words into syllables; and, follow auditory sequences.  Many children with Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) also have speech and language deficits such as low vocabulary, poor flexibility of vocal patterns and articulation problems.

Evaluation by both an audiologist and a speech-language pathologist provides important information about the child with central auditory processing problems. An audiologist who is experienced with CAPD can evaluate a child’s hearing and do further testing for possible auditory processing problems.  A speech-language pathologist can evaluate a child’s perception of speech and his/her receptive (understanding) and expressive (production) language use. These professionals and a child’s teacher and parents can work together to determine the scope of the problem and the most effective treatment techniques.

All auditory abilities are interrelated – each one influencing the other. However certain situations can place greater demands on any one of these abilities.  In recent years, the regular classroom has become a very busy, very noisy environment.  Desks are clustered together in order to facilitate interactive learning activities.  The burden of this classroom configuration on sensitive listeners is the likely reason more children with C.A.P.D. are coming to the attention of the professionals.

Many children with C.A.P.D. exhibit behaviour similar to children with ADHD. They may also:  speak too loudly; appear to daydream; get lost in rote verbalizations; not enjoy music; avoid explanations by using phrases like, “I forget.”; substitute gestures for words; lip read; have trouble with phonics-based activities; and look to see what others are doing before beginning an activity.

Some assistive devices, like amplified sound and noise cancellation systems, are now being developed to aid sensitive listeners. Teacher awareness of auditorally sensitive students is crucial.

Auditory processing deficits may be part of learning disabilities, but a diagnosis of CAPD by an audiologist is not sufficient to diagnose learning disabilities, which are diagnosed by psychology professionals.