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The hearing disorder called Central Auditory Processing Disorder, or CAPD (sometimes referred to as Auditory Processing Disorder, or APD) is not based on an inability to hear sounds correctly with the ears, but on the brain’s inability to process and interpret these sounds. With CAPD, your ears have no problem hearing sounds (especially the sounds associated with speech) properly, but something is affecting the brain’s ability to interpret these sounds. As a result, Central Auditory Processing Disorder has been described as a breakdown of coordination between the ears and the brain.

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 Central Auditory Processing Disorder often cannot discern the sounds of different words even when the words are spoken loud and clear. This problem often is exacerbated by the presence of background noise, so that children who can hear and understand words perfectly well in quiet environments have difficulty doing so in noisy environments.

This can make CAPD hard to detect. A child that can hear and intrepret speech well in a quiet environment will generally have no problems passing a hearing test administered in a quiet environment. As a result, their audiogram results may appear normal, but they may nevertheless have difficulties distinguishing similar words, locating where sounds are coming from, recognizing repetitive patterns in high and low sounds, or hearing more than one person’s voice at a 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). This misdiagnosis is further complicated by the fact that a child may in fact have ADHD or some other learning disorder and also have CAPD.

It is important for these children’s development that problems with CAPD be identified early so that treatment and correction of the difficulties can begin as soon as possible. A standard hearing test doesn’t rule out CAPD. If you detect any of these signs in your children, schedule a professional hearing test that can replicate the conditions where the child struggles.