Lately I have come across a number of people who are new to auditory processing disorder. These are people who have very small children who exhibit signs that might be indicative of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). I remember when my daughter was young and we knew something was not working right for her, but we weren’t sure what to do about it. It was a scary, stressful time.
When our daughter was two, we noticed that not only did she not speak, but she didn’t seem to understand anything we told her. She has a twin brother and he was speaking in sentences, telling us stories, and in every way communicating well. We wanted to believe that she was just a late bloomer, but when she started tantruming from frustration, screaming from noises we could barely hear, and staring glazedly into space – absolutely checking out from reality – we knew something was not right. (When looking back on it, we realized that she actually exhibited signs as early as a newborn, but we didn’t know at the time what we were looking at.)
I started keeping a diary of her life. I wrote down what she did or didn’t do that seemed unusual to me. It didn’t take long to see a pattern emerge. She didn’t understand what people said. She was afraid of noises and voices. She not only spaced out regularly, she did other odd things like smell everything, put things in her mouth, keep food stored in her cheeks, walk with her arms out at right angles, stand with her head on the ground down between her legs, play with her tongue in her mouth, constantly wiggle her fingers, not make eye contact, and try to avoid all people other than her immediate family.
So I started researching and found out about our state’s infant and early childhood program. It is a program that provides services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. to infants and children below the age of three. They sent an evaluator to our home and decided that our daughter qualified for their services, so we started speech therapy and occupational therapy.
From our occupational therapist, we learned about Sensory Processing Disorder and started a sensory diet for our daughter. This included physical activities as well as special foods that seemed to calm her and help her to not space out so much. With a strong sensory diet, she made better eye contact, didn’t tantrum or space out so much, did less odd behaviors, and in general was a much happier and accessible child.
Our speech therapist was working actively on trying to get our daughter to speak and to better understand the spoken language. I felt there had to be a reason that she didn’t understand, so we went to an audiologist to get her hearing testing. Her ability to hear sounds was completely normal; she had no hearing loss. So I started to research and found a disorder called Auditory Processing Disorder. Our daughter seemed to fit this description perfectly.
I contacted a leading specialist in APD and set up a consultation appointment. What I found out was that she was too young to be officially tested, but he was more than willing to look over my diary of her and meet her for some informal evaluations. It didn’t take long for him to believe that she most likely did indeed have APD and that although he could not formally give her such a diagnosis, he felt it was accurate to believe she did have it, and we should start working towards helping her as much as possible. He gave us a lot of information as well as some techniques to use with her such as always making eye contact, speaking in clear short phrases rather than sentences, watching for signs of stress in her particularly in noisy environments, and to realize that she will most likely not be able to understand what is being said if multiple people are talking at the same time- such as in a restaurant or at a family gathering.
With this information, we informed our speech therapist and occupational therapist who immediately researched Auditory Processing Disorder and tried to incorporate their new knowledge into their therapy. Our occupational therapist started our daughter on a listening therapy program and our speech therapist introduced us to the use of picture cards to assist with communication. Both of these things proved to be extremely useful.
At age three, our daughter transitioned into the school district’s early childhood special education program. She went three mornings a week where she had access to a special education teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and direct instruction and experience in socialization. Although it was stressful for her to go, she did show great improvement by going there – particularly in socializing.
So this was our start to living with Auditory Processing Disorder (and Sensory Processing Disorder). If I could give any advice to parents of young children who are exhibiting signs that something just isn’t right, I would say start a diary. Write down what your child is doing or not doing that seems distressing or odd. In time, you will see patterns. You can use these patterns to access the services and help you need. If you live in the United States, contact your state’s infant and early child program if your child is under the age of three; your pediatrician or local school district should be able to give you the contact information. If your child is aged three or older, contact your local school district. These agencies have specialists that can help get you started on the path to helping your child.