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Living Well

​Unusual Auditory Disorder Tackled

Last updated: Jun 27, 2016

If you can’t hear very well, you can get a hearing aid. But what if you can hear the sound, you just can’t understand it?

That’s the problem people with central auditory processing disorder, or CAPD, face. Similar words, such as coat and boat, may be confused. Background noises that most people tune out are a major distraction.

Summit Medical Group has stepped in to help, offering comprehensive testing for CAPD in the Livingston office since early this year.

“The condition has been around for years, but there is more awareness now,” says SMG audiologist Tiffany Colon, explaining that CAPD is classified as a problem in interpreting speech. “Parents are coming to me, saying ‘do you think this is a processing issue?’ Parents are really excited about having an option to try.”

Signs of CAPD

People with CAPD have normal or close-to-normal hearing in both ears, but often appear to have a hearing problem because they:

  • Have trouble following spoken instructions or other material presented verbally
  • Struggle to understand what is said in noisy environments
  • Perform much better on tasks where listening is not crucial
  • Often can’t determine the source of a sound
  • Seem very disorganized

More Common in Children

While both adults and children can have the disorder, it’s most often recognized in school-age children. Teachers, speech pathologists, and other professionals notice a child is struggling and recommend testing for CAPD.

“Any child between the ages of 7 and 12 who is struggling in the classroom should absolutely consider getting an auditory processing evaluation to rule out that this is not an underlying issue,” Colon says.

Colon sets aside 90 minutes to test a child for the disorder, which allows time for breaks and/or snacks. “The test is very different from a standard hearing test, tapping into different processing skills,” she explains. The person listens to a series of beeps in one part of the test, for example, is asked about the pattern of high and low notes.

A diagnosis can be complicated by coexisting conditions, such as attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “It’s actually rare to find CAPD in isolation,” Colon notes. She adds that some facilities are reluctant to test people with multiple issues, but SMG welcomes them. “We’re happy to test kids with other problems.”

Diagnosis Brings Changes

If the test confirms a child has CAPD, the speech pathologist or another specialist is notified, and follows up with an individualized treatment program.

In some cases, the focus is on adjustments to the child’s environment. Sounds that are distracting to the child can often be reduced by simple measures, such as closing the door to the classroom, shutting windows, and moving the child’s seat “as close to the teacher as we can get them,” says Colon.

A more high-tech approach can make a difference as well. The teacher can be equipped with a microphone and the child with a small receiver that carries the teacher’s voice directly into the child’s ear. The receivers look similar to hearing aids.

The child may also work with a speech therapist to learn to recognize speech fluctuations and rhythms. “It’s really nice to have the collaboration with other professionals,” Colon says.

Adults can also benefit from testing. The disorder can cause problems in the workplace as well as in social situations, when the person seems not to be paying attention or frequently asks others to repeat things. Sometimes adults think a hearing loss is responsible for their confusion.

Colon tested and diagnosed one woman with CAPD who had struggled in school growing up and had trouble keeping a job as an adult. “She was thrilled that we were able to do the test, and also a little sad that she hadn’t gotten help earlier.”

Expertise in CAPD

CAPD is a subject close to Colon’s heart. It was the topic of her graduate school thesis at Towson University in Maryland, and she coauthored a research paper on the subject that was published in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology.

Being a part of SMG’s expanded audiology services is gratifying. “I think we have a lot to offer. Day to day, it doesn’t feel like work. In a single day, I can test a newborn or someone 100 years old. It’s really rewarding.”

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