How to Recognize a Child’s Questions
Tips for Parents: Identifying Central Auditory Processing Disorder

“For the first time in my life I know what I what to say, but I don’t know how to say it, “said Leah, my 11 year-old daughter. She was dressed in her favorite purple shirt as we sat on her messy bed, a lumpy blanket as our cushion and papers surrounding us. I was helping her work on a challenging fifth grade assignment. Her dad and I worried for several years why she wasn’t learning writing skills at the same pace as other children. Leah’s paradox confused us: she spoke well from an early age, but writing was an excruciating exercise for her. Leah’s comment marked a significant moment of recognition and insight in our family’s ongoing attempt to understand her.

Why did she struggle academically and socially? From the time Leah was 5 years old, my husband and I took her to see professional after professional. No diagnosis made sense to me, but my intuition told me that something was wrong and growing worse. Although I had worked with children for many years as a child psychotherapist, and had encountered various learning problems, Leah’s symptoms were not familiar to me. However I did wonder about how she was processing language. She needed constant adult attention and was unhappy playing alone. She asked many questions of children and adults, and at times talked incessantly. We later recognized this as her need to understand different situations or sometimes just the meaning of a word. As she was growing, her world became more confusing. At times she was criticized by teachers and friends as anxious or nosey. She was becoming more anxious in response to the confusion she experienced. Most people she encountered didn’t understand her.

Working together on her writing assignment was one of several breakthroughs along the way. It stands out in my mind because of Leah’s ability to be so insightful at times, in spite of her confusion about the world. I felt relieved and sad, but also like her dad and I could now start to really help her. The language problem I had always suspected was becoming clearer. Now in retrospect, I can put the pieces of the puzzle together.

In kindergarten Leah came home from school knowing everything about her friends from their favorite color to what they had for lunch and who sat by whom. Mothers of her friends were shocked by how much information I received from her because their children came home and answered questions about their day with the typical answer, “fine”. I became a resource for parents concerned about their kids, because Leah would tell me about the social scene at school. Little did I know at the time that our discussions helped my daughter organize her day. As she progressed through school, I noticed patterns of social, as well as academic instability.

When Leah was 7 years old, we knew something was wrong. Yet, the professional opinion was that we were overly anxious parents. Still, we had her tested by a neuropsychologist, who discovered psychological reasons for difficulties in reading comprehension. I felt almost certain that she had a language-based learning disability because of her constant questions about information that should have been obvious to her; her refusal to allow us to read stories to her; as well as her inability to retell a story that she had read. However this was not revealed in this battery of tests. Obviously this led to more frustration. Although after the testing we had enough information to hire an educational specialist for her, it still seemed to me something crucial was missing in our understanding of Leah.

By the time Leah reached fifth grade, having scored poorly on her reading comprehension portion of the standardized tests the year before, the afternoon she made this remark convinced me that she had a language disorder. We were madly searching for a middle school to meet her educational needs. We finally discovered a missing piece of the puzzle after taking her for language testing.

Have you ever put together a jigsaw puzzle with 50 or 100 pieces? There may have been links along the way or groups of pieces that fit together. It was not until the audiologist diagnosed my daughter with Central Auditory Processing Disorder that the puzzle began to look like a picture; one we could finally understand.

That afternoon, grappling with the research paper, Leah’s puzzle was almost complete. We found a terrific special middle school that met her learning needs. Today she is an exuberant teenager who is able to manage the demands of a mainstream high school. Writing is her favorite subject. She no longer needs to ask as many questions, because she has learned other strategies for figuring out the meaning of the world. Most importantly she knows what she needs in order to learn, so that she can ask for help.

Tips for Parents:
If your child exhibits the following, which is a list of some symptoms (but not all inclusive) of Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), locate a certified audiologist for testing.*
• Asks questions repeatedly and needs to be given repeated instructions.
• Has difficulty extracting abstract information in writing, and spelling at certain times.
• Tunes out and can’t pay attention in a large room with loud background noise.
• Speaks in extraordinarily loud voice.
• Does not process auditory information well; for example, may not be able to retell a story that is read; may not like to be read stories to; understand a movie; and may avoid these situations (by not paying attention, having meltdowns at the suggestions, etc.)
• Looks or acts “spacey”.
• Is clingy to one friend or one parent, at home, in school or new situations.
• Is known as “overly controlling”, due to the attempt often to rearrange situations according to own needs.

*You can find a certified audiologist in a teaching hospital affiliated with a medical school, or by contacting your pediatrician; a pediatric neurologist; or neuropsychologist.

**Join the Learning Disabilities Association of America, which you can find online. It is a wonderful online resource for parents of children with learning disabilities.

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Author's Bio: 

Child psychotherapist who has worked for over 20 years with children from age 3 through adolescence with varying emotional and learning problems, guiding them, their parents and teachers through the challenges of home and school life. Author is also a parent of a child with Central Auditory Processing Disorder.