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.
CAPD affects as many as 2% to 5% of school-age children, and as many as half of the children are diagnosed as having a learning disability. Children with CAPD often fail to recognize subtle differences between the sounds of different words, even though the words are clear and loud enough for them to hear. 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.
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. 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.
The symptoms of Central Auditory Processing Disorder also tend to appear in other areas of life, as the child struggles to deal with not being able to understand people speaking to them or around them. The disorder may manifest itself in a difficulty following instructions, being easily distracted by loud noises, appearing forgetful or disorganized, or slow to develop reading, spelling and language skills. 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). In reality, CAPD can be present alone or combined with these other disorders, presenting a difficult diagnostic challenge.
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.