Central Auditory Processing Disorder, or CAPD, is a hearing disorder in which the trouble lies not with the ears, but with the brain. 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. The disorder is thus characterized by a lack of coordination between the ears and the brain.
As many as 2 to 5 percent of school-age children are affected by Central Auditory Processing Disorder including roughly half of all children that have been diagnosed with a learning disability. One of the characteristics of Central Auditory Processing Disorder is that children who have it have difficulties recognizing subtle differences between the sounds of similar words, even though they have no problem hearing the words. The problem is worsened with background noise and in some cases of Central Auditory Processing Disorder the child can hear well in quite environments and only has difficulty in noisy environments.
Diagnosing CAPD is difficult, because they can often hear and interpret speech well in quiet rooms. When the children’s hearing is tested, however, this is also done in quiet rooms where they have no problem hearing the pure tones generated by the test equipment. Consequently, their audiogram test results may appear normal when in real-life situations they are having difficulty locating the source of a sound, discriminating similar sounds or hearing more than one person speaking at the same 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. These symptoms are often confused with symptoms of other conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or depression, especially because when given standard hearing tests, the children often appear to be normal. The situation is complicated by the fact that CAPD is often present along with these other disorders.
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. Early diagnosis is key to ensuring that the condition is resolved, which is why it is important, if you have noticed any of the above symptoms in your children, to have their hearing professionally tested.