Auditory processing refers to the way that sound is processed after it is heard. A person with Auditory Processing Disorder may have difficulty interpreting sounds they hear–often related to speech. The structure of the ear can be typical while the person experiences varying degrees of difficulty making sense of the sound.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to raising happy and safe Autistic children. Happy and safe children make parenting them a lot less stressful. So I’m raising a topic that I think plays a major role in the lives of many Autistic children (and adults) unbeknownst to the parents.
It is important not just because it affects communication abilities but because it can lead to extreme frustration and other emotions which can result in unexplained behavior.
Auditory processing difficulties. I don’t know why there is not more of a focus on this as a frequently occurring disability secondary to Autism. In my experience it doesn’t even seem to be on the radar of most professionals.
I will share our diagnostic experience and then some really important things that Autistic adults shared with me about APD..
Evelyn “passed” her newborn hearing test. When she was about three, we started to notice that she didn’t seem to hearing when we talked to her. We wondered if she was experiencing hearing loss and had her tested again–even though we noted that she heard other noise.
She “passed” the screening again. Her neurologist thought it was worth having an ABR hearing test. This is done under sedation in young children and tests the way the hearing nerve responds to different sounds. She “passed” that too.
Fast forward to last school year. Evelyn was seven. I went away for several days which I don’t normally do so it was a big deal. When I came back, Maxine met me at the door and we had a loud greeting. Evie was sitting on the couch playing with her ipad. She didn’t even look up. I started greeting her excitedly.
She didn’t look up until I bent down in front of her and put a hand on her knee. She didn’t know I was there prior to that. I know this because the moment I touched her, she lit up, threw herself at me, and didn’t let go for several minutes.
She wasn’t ignoring me. She didn’t process what she heard.
Because I knew nothing of the possibility of auditory processing difficulties, I had a difficult time wrapping my brain around what was happening. We knew she could hear because she had all of the tests.
Over the next several weeks, I began “testing” her. I would offer her something desirable. She wouldn’t respond without a visual cue. These were words that I knew that she comprehended.
I raised the question at a school meeting. One of the people on her team responded that the team agreed that Evie didn’t seem to process language. I was floored. How had this not come up? How was she not receiving accommodations for this? They told me that only a neurologist could diagnose her with “central auditory processing disorder.”
We went to her neuro. The diagnosis process looked like this: I told him what we’d experienced. He said she has Central Auditory Processing Disorder. He wrote a letter to school saying that she needed accommodation around this disability.
When I think of the ramifications of our failure to detect this disorder, I could cry. Not just the ramifications on speech, language, and academics. But the assumptions everyone made about the function of her behavior and all the ways Evie was offended by those assumptions. This was not Evie being stubborn. This was Evie being disabled in a way that no one seemed to acknowledge as worthy of support.
Lots of Autistic adults were kind enough to share their experiences around APD with me.
As I mentioned, a person could have perfect structural hearing and still experience APD.