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Is auditory processing disorder the same as dyslexia?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Dyslexia “is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence.”

As for Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), the website Auditory Processing Center describes it as “an abnormality in the processing of sound in the central auditory nervous system.  This causes a breakdown in the brain’s ability to accurately and efficiently process sounds and language. This can make it hard to distinguish small sound differences within words, remember what was heard, and keep up with ongoing speech, especially when there is background noise or when more than one person is talking.”

On paper, these two conditions don’t sound particularly similar at all. However, there’s far more to the comparison than what meets the eye.

How are the two similar?

Apparently, 70% of those with Dyslexia have also been found to have a range of APDs. In fact, recent research has even found that one out of four children tested for possible Learning Disabilities had both Dyslexia and APDs. Isn’t that surprising? There is currently a lot of debate in the scientific community over whether or not Dyslexia is a long-term consequence of APD. A study comparing children diagnosed with Dyslexia and APD have found virtually no differences between the two groups, while some even contend that such diagnoses depend upon the kind of specialists that are consulted. As a result of the above, many experts have even recommended using non-verbal auditory tests to diagnose APD separately, as opposed to the kind of intellectual and academic testing used in evaluating Dyslexia.

How are the two different?

Despite the similarities, Dyslexia and APD are still markedly distinct. These are some of the many major differences between the two:

  • Those with APD, as the name itself might imply, mostly present difficulties in processing sound. On the other hand, children with Dyslexia find it difficult to process language itself – either verbally and/or when spelling and reading.
  • Accordingly, children with APD may find it difficult to spell, read and even understand information that may be presented to them verbally. Dyslexic children face the exact same problems but for information presented in print.
  • APD results in a difficulty in distinguishing between certain verbal sounds – for example, instead of “big” they may hear “pig”, and instead of “fees” they may hear “flees”. However, Dyslexic children may find it difficult to manipulate sounds in words whilst pronouncing them: for example – they might find it difficult to pronounce “pig” even though it’s only one letter different from “big”; same with “fees” and “fleas”.
  • Following from the previous point, children with APD face a lot of difficulty in recognising subtle differences between certain kinds of sounds. For example: they might find the short “i” and short “e” sounds to be similar when they’re actually not. Children with Dyslexia, on the other hand, face difficulties with phonological processing, particularly when it comes to longer words (where they may have problems in identifying the number of syllables and words).
  • APD results in children finding it difficult to understand stories that are told verbally, unless they are accompanied with illustrations and/or brief. However, it’s completely the opposite case for many Dyslexic children, wherein they display a very good understanding of verbally-communicated stories.
  • When children with APD misspell words, they tend to involve letter omissions or the usage of wrong sounds (for example: misspelling “cast” as “cart”). Dyslexic children, on the other hand, display phonetically correct spellings that are still wrong (for example: spelling “friends” as “frens”).

Other differences between the two can be understood through what fatigues them (for those with APD it’s listening, whereas for those with Dyslexia it’s reading), the kind of information they may find hard to process (for the former it’s heard, for the latter it’s read) and so on.

Why is the distinction between the two crucial?

Many of Dyslexia’s symptoms may overlap with APD, but if there’s one difference between the two that becomes abundantly clear once one goes through the previous section, it’s that those with APD are simply unable to hear correctly. This results in poor phonological awareness owing to the fact that their central auditory nervous systems can’t even process the sounds correctly due to various neurological reasons.

Why is the distinction important? Because, simply put, the two different conditions present very significant challenges that require different treatments. For children with APD, functioning in a classroom environment is incredibly difficult due to the fact that typical classrooms function through verbal instructions from teachers – for a Dyslexic child, however, the right kind of verbal instructions might actually prove to be quite helpful. Conversely, the latter may find it difficult to perform during a written exam whereas the former, with adequate non-verbal guidance, can find it comparatively easy.

This is why the right kind of diagnosis is so important for the two conditions.

What are the treatment methods for the two?

 

APD

The treatment of APD focuses on three areas:

  • Development of higher skills to compensate for it
  • Changing the environs in which they learn
  • Remedial therapy for the deficit itself

Typically, basic auditory processing tasks have been found to be quite successful in treating the condition as it increases phonemic awareness. Some successful methods also include treating symptoms related to APD, such as the treatment of phonological disorders.

 

Dyslexia

As discussed in this write-up of ours, Occupational Therapy can prove to be quite helpful for children with Dyslexia. Various kinds of dyslexia interventions exist in order to help children become aware of the relationships between letters and how they sound. In addition, reducing anxiety and stress has been found to have a positive effect on how Dyslexic children write.

 

Both

According to the Auditory Processing Center website, the usage of the Roger Focus system has proven to be beneficial for both children with Dyslexia and APD, as they help transmit the teacher’s voice directly to earpieces worn by the students in question resulting in improved hearing abilities and phonemic awareness.

In conclusion, it’s highly important for parents to know the differences between the two conditions in order to get the right kinds of treatment for their children.

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