Processing disorders, such as: auditory processing, visual processing, and sensory processing disorders, are conditions in which the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information that comes through the senses. While processing disorders are often controversial as stand-alone diagnoses, the symptoms that children experience are REAL. Below is some information regarding the three most common types of processing disorders among children.

What Is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Also known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), makes it difficult for children to process what others are saying, especially the subtle differences between sounds in words. Children with APD often misunderstand verbal commands, struggle to comprehend language in noisy environments, and mix up similar words, making daily life challenging. However, getting an early diagnosis and the right therapy leads to success in school and life.

There can be a lot of misunderstanding around APD. For instance, many people assume that it applies to anyone who has difficulty listening and understanding spoken language. However, an auditory processing disorder is not a hearing impairment. A child can pass a hearing test and still be diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder.

Researchers do not completely understand where the problem exists, between what the ear hears and what the brain processes, but they have found that it is related to the central nervous system’s ability to process auditory information. Unlike other conditions that affect the understanding of language, APD does not affect the understand of the meaning of what is said; it affects understanding the actual sounds of language. However, it is possible for APD to co-exist with other language and learning disorders like ADHD. It is estimated that somewhere between two to seven percent of children have APD.

What Are Signs Of Auditory Processing Disorder?

Children with APD can exhibit a variety of symptoms that range from mild to severe. Below are some of the most common signs of APD.

  • Auditory Figure-Ground Discrimination — This refers to the ability to focus on the important sounds because of a distracting noise in the background (e.g. a child who cannot pay attention to the teacher in a noisy, unstructured classroom).
  • Auditory Memory — This is when a child has trouble recalling information such as directions, lists, or other materials. This effect can be immediate (e.g. cannot recall what was just said)  or delayed (e.g. cannot remember information when it’s later needed).
  • Auditory Discrimination — This is when a child finds it difficult to notice and distinguish the difference between similar sounding words (e.g. coat and boat, seventy and seventeen, or clown and cow).
  • Auditory Sequencing — This refers to a child’s ability to recall and understand the order of sounds and words (e.g. a child may hear the number 869 but write down 986).

Specific behaviors that could be an indication of an auditory processing disorder:

  • Has trouble following conversations
  • Doesn’t enjoy listening to music
  • Finds it hard to understand people in crowded environments
  • Has difficulty remembering spoken instructions
  • Finds it difficult to learn songs or nursery rhymes
  • Is unable to pinpoint the source of a sound

It is important to remember that all of these symptoms can have other causes. Auditory processing disorders cannot be diagnosed simply through a checklist of symptoms. A proper diagnosis requires a professional audiologist who can perform reliable tests that will correctly identify the child’s specific challenges.

What Are The Causes Of Auditory Processing Disorder?

The exact causes of APD are still unknown. This is partly because of its multi-cause nature and also because of the lack of medical research and understanding. However, researchers have identified a number of likely causes:

  • Head traumas
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight

How Is Auditory Processing Disorder Treated?

With the right treatment, children are able to mitigate the effects of APD. Because there is so much overlap with other disorders, it is crucial to get a thorough and accurate diagnosis through a multidisciplinary approach. For instance, consult with your child’s teacher, psychologist, speech pathologists, and other professionals. Beginning with this foundation will help promote a comprehensive and effective treatment plan.

Additionally, it is not until around the age of 15 when the auditory system becomes fully developed. Many children diagnosed with APD are, therefore, able to develop better skills as their auditory system matures.

If you have noticed that your child is demonstrating the behaviors of auditory processing disorder, make sure your child has passed their hearing tests. While there is no immediate cure for APD, speech pathologists and occupational therapists can help children improve their communication abilities by addressing language and literacy deficits.

Have questions about how we can help your child? Contact FUNctionabilities to learn more about treating auditory processing disorders. We specialize in pediatric therapies like speech therapy and occupational therapy.

What Is Visual Processing Disorder?

A visual processing disorder, or a visual processing issue, is a condition that makes it difficult to interpret visual information. Children with this condition may have trouble reading or distinguishing the difference between two shapes. A child with a visual processing disorder, for example, can pass a vision test but not be able to spot the difference between a triangle and a square. This condition is also often associated with hand-eye coordination problems. Visual processing disorders can not only negatively affect learning, but they can also impact socialization, self-esteem, and day-to-day living. While this is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured, the effects can be reduced with early diagnosis and appropriate treatments.

Eyesight is much more than accuracy and having 20/20 vision. While we often think of the eyes as being responsible for processing the visual world, it is actually the brain that does all of the heavy lifting and allows us to understand symbols, pictures, distances, and other visual stimuli. When there is a weakness in the communication between the eyes and the brain, this is referred to as a visual processing disorder.

Visual processing issues are complex. This complexity is only deepened by the fact that many of the associated issues cannot be detected during a vision test. There are eight different types of visual processing difficulties. Children with a visual processing disorder can experience more than one of these difficulties.

Below are the eight different types:

  • Visual Discrimination Issues — Children with this issue will find it hard to see the difference between similar letters, shapes, and objects. This may, for example, entail mixing up d and b or p and q.
  • Visual Figure-Ground Issues — Children with this type are not able to identify or pull out a shape or character from its background. This can make it difficult for children to find a particular piece of information on a page.
  • Visual Sequencing Issues — Those who experience this type of visual processing disorder struggle to decipher the order of words, symbols, or images. For many children, this can take the form of skipping lines when reading or reading in reverse.
  • Visual-Motor Processing Issues — Children with these issues have difficulty using what they see to coordinate their movements. This may lead to bumping into objects when walking or being unable to write within the lines.
  • Visual Memory Issues (Short-Term or Long-Term) — As the name implies, this type finds it hard to remember symbols, shapes, and objects that they’ve seen. This naturally makes tasks like reading and spelling difficult.
  • Visual-Spatial Issues — Kids with these issues have difficulty telling where objects are in space and the spatial relationship of these objects. This trouble can apply to physical objects and for characters and objects described on paper or in spoken word. Understanding maps and accurately judging time may also present a serious challenge.
  • Visual-Closure Issues — For children with this type of visual processing disorder, identifying an object, when only parts of it are showing, is challenging.
  • Letter and Symbol Reversal Issues — This type often switches numbers or letters when writing, and for children over the age of seven, this may cause them to make letter substitutions when reading. These issues affect a child’s ability to read, write, and make mathematical calculations.

What Are The Symptoms Of Visual Processing Disorder?

Recognizing the signs of visual processing issues in children can be quite difficult. As children age and schoolwork becomes more challenging and constant, the signs can become more apparent. Below are some common signs of visual processing issues at different ages in life:

Children in Preschool

  •  Is unable to focus (e.g. can’t finish a simple puzzle, doesn’t follow directions at school, etc.)
  • Appears clumsy (e.g. regularly drops utensils and drinks, bumps into objects, etc.)
  • Finds it hard to learn ABCs (e.g. confuses letters and can’t tell the difference between similar numbers and letters)

Children in Grade School

  • Has lots of trouble with writing (e.g. struggles to write on a line and copy notes from the board)
  • Finds reading difficult (e.g. loses place when reading and often complains about being tired or bored when reading)
  • Is unable to use fine motor skills (e.g. needs help cutting food, zipping clothes, buttoning, and other tasks that require fine motor skills)
  • Doesn’t seem to understand math (e.g. confuses mathematical symbols and copies numbers incorrectly — this could even be the child’s own address)

Children in Middle School

  • Is unable to remember things he/she has seen (e.g. forgets the phone numbers of best friends, misspells familiar words with irregular spelling patterns)
  • Struggles to look up information (e.g. has trouble navigating directories and completing open-book quizzes)
  • Gets lost regularly (e.g. prone to getting lost in areas that are familiar, unable to give directions to home, etc.)

While these signs could indicate the existence of a visual processing disorder, they could also be a symptom of another issue, like dyspraxia, dyslexia, or ADHD. Remember that noticing these common signs is not enough to diagnose your child. Only a professional assessment can make this determination.

What Are the Causes of a Visual Processing Disorder?

Beyond the brain failing to accurately process the visual cues sent by the eyes, the exact causes of visual processing issues are still unknown. Although visual processing issues are common among children with learning issues, the condition is not considered a learning disability. Some research suggests that common causes may include low birth weight, premature birth, and traumatic brain injury.

How Is a Visual Processing Disorder Treated?

It can be challenging to recognize and diagnose the signs for a visual processing disorder in your child. However, as children age and start school, the signs will become more apparent. During this time, it is paramount that an effective treatment plan is put in place. Visual processing issues can not only cause academic problems, but they can also be detrimental to self-confidence and make simple day-to-day tasks hard (e.g. matching socks and looking up basic information).

Understanding the specifics of your child’s processing issues is the first step in helping your child.  Our occupational therapists will perform specific assessments to tease out which areas of visual processing are difficult for your child.

There are many strategies, exercises, and technologies to help mitigate the effects of visual processing disorders. At FUNctionabilities, we are proud to offer an array of pediatric therapies that can help treat visual processing disorders in children. Our team consists of pediatric occupational therapists and speech language pathologists who have the experience and knowledge to help develop strategies tailored specifically toward your child’s individual weaknesses. Contact us today to learn more.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) was likened by it’s founder (A. Jean Ayres) to a “neurological traffic jam,” where the brain becomes overloaded and unable to organize all the information coming from the senses. Without treatment, many side effects can persist, including: anxiety, behavioral problems, depression, motor-skill challenges, and difficulties at school.

Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain is unable to accurately and appropriately process sensations. For children, this is often displayed as an oversensitivity or under-sensitivity to: movement, moving items, sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. The inaccurate interpretation of sensory information makes completing daily life skills more challenging. For example, it is not uncommon for children with SPD to be so sensitive to touch that the light touch of shirt or fabric can irritate the skin. For some children, the effects can be so strong that they may vomit at the sight of some foods or look for a safe place to hide when they hear the sound of a vacuum.

What Are the Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder?

Like most processing disorders, the symptoms of SPD vary greatly in severity and type. SPD can affect one sense or multiple senses. Some children may exhibit hypersensitivity, while others are totally unresponsive and fail to acknowledge extreme sensations and even pain. The following are some symptoms of sensory processing disorder:

Hypersensitivity (Over-Sensitivity)

  • Refuse to wear clothing because it is too itchy or irritating
  • Unable to handle loud noises and bright lights
  • Dislike being touched — even by parents
  •  Fearful of crowds and worried about safety even in safe environments
  • Distracted by background noises that are barely audible to others
  • Generally clumsy, often bumps into things
  • Unable to control how much force they apply (e.g. rips paper when using an eraser)
  • Prone to strong tantrums and extreme behaviors

Hyposensitivity (Under-Sensitivity)

  • Has an extremely high threshold for pain
  • Difficulty with personal space (gets too close)
  • Can’t remain still, is extremely fidgety
  • Loves crashing and bumping into things
  • Craves intense movements and deep pressures
  • Has a strong desire to touch people or objects
  • Prone to strong tantrums and extreme behaviors

If you notice any of these signs in your child, it is important to have a professional conduct a thorough evaluation. Far too often, sensory-related symptoms are ignored or misdiagnosed, which leads to negative effects that impact everyday life, including:

  • Reluctance to change
  • Inability to focus
  • Difficulty with motor skills
  • Problems with self-control

Treating Sensory Processing Disorders

SPD, although commonly known, is not in the DSM-5, therefore it cannot be officially “diagnosed”. Due to this, it can be difficult to find specialized treatment for the children who struggle with the many symptoms. However, there are many occupational therapists who provide this type of specialized treatment, and hope should never be lost. If you suspect your child is exhibiting signs of having sensory processing issues, it is absolutely necessary to consult with a trained occupational therapist. At FUNctionabilities, we treat SPD through Ayres Sensory Integration using a variety of skill-oriented theories of practice.

FUNctionabilities Sensory Gym

FUNctionalities specializes in treating processing disorders through multidisciplinary approaches. Our highly trained therapists use evidence-based practices and a cutting-edge facility to improve a child’s ability to navigate through life. When developing treatment plans, we target the underlying problem, not just the symptoms. Below are some of the pediatric therapies that we provide:

At FUNctionabilities, we always strive to make therapy fun so that your child is “learning to play” and “playing to learn.” One way we do this is through sensory integration therapy. The goal of sensory integration is to challenge children in fun and powerful ways, and to grow their confidence in their ability to move forward and mitigate the effects of sensory disorders. A key way we accomplish this is through our sensory-rich environment. This is a space outfitted with equipment like trampolines, swings, climbing walls, foam pits, and other challenging (but kid-friendly) devices. With the guidance of trained professionals, children participate in fun activities that are structured to challenge them while also ensuring that they are always successful and positively reinforced.

Call us today to secure an evaluation and be on your way to answers and solutions. You can reach us by phone at (800) 472-9515 or fill out this online form, and we’ll be in touch shortly.