Sometimes, children exhibit classic signs of hearing loss: they do not hear well, or may only understand a portion of what is being said. They experience learning difficulties, particularly in environments with lots of background noise. When multiple people are talking, they lose focus and can’t follow the conversation. Parents may suspect a hearing loss, but in many cases, the cause is a behavioral disorder known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). An estimated 5% of school-age children suffer from CAPD, a condition that affects their ability to process information correctly due to a disconnect between what they are hearing and how their brain responds.
Most children with CAPD don’t actually have hearing loss. Studies have shown the majority are able to hear normally in quiet environments; the problem is in the way they process auditory information. Symptoms may range from mild to severe and include difficulty with any of the following:
- Hearing in noisy environments
- Following conversations
- Remembering spoken information
- Maintaining focus and attention
- Following directions
- Reading and spelling
- Processing nonverbal information
Children with CPAD may become withdrawn, isolated and depressed. They often become disruptive and may take unnecessary risks or lash out at others. Because many of the behavioral issues closely mimic those associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other learning disabilities, an incorrect diagnosis is often made. An audiologist can determine the exact nature of your child’s issues through a routine hearing test, which will rule out any physical hearing problems by testing their ability to hear a range of frequencies. If no hearing loss is present, behavioral and electrophysiological testing is administered.