The hearing problem known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder, or CAPD (also called 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.

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. 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 inability to understand words often becomes worse in noisy environments, but is not as present in quiet environments.

CAPD is often difficult to detect, because when children’s hearing is tested in a quiet room, they can clearly hear the pure tones they hear through the testing equipment, and they similarly have no apparent problems hearing and interpreting speech in non-noisy environments. But even though their audiogram results may appear normal, children with Central Auditory Processing Disorder often have difficulty locating where sounds are coming from, difficulty discerning the differences between two similar sounds, difficulty recognizing patterns of repetitive high and low sounds, and difficulty being able to hear 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. Children with Central Auditory Processing Disorder may have difficulty following directions or following conversation, may develop reading and language problems, may appear forgetful and disorganized, and may be easily distracted by sudden noises. 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.

Early detection of CAPD is critical, because to ensure the child’s proper social and educational development, the sooner the problems are diagnosed, the sooner they can be treated. 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.