Doctor Calls for Funds

An ear doctor is striving to drum up awareness for an impairment most of us have never heard of.

Audiologist Dr Bill Keith says auditory processing disorder (APD) is the most neglected and under-funded area in hearing services in New Zealand.

It affects a large number of children and it is vital that parents understand what it is, how it affects children's learning and what can be done about it.

APD is a hearing impairment that occurs in the pathways of the brain.

It's when the brain can't hear, he says.

The ears work just fine but the brain can't fully interpret what is being heard.

Dr Keith is trying to get funding and lobby for better recognition of APD by the Ministry of Health to assist parents who need to pay for expensive services.

"People with APD can pass normal hearing tests, because to pick it up, specialised tests need to be done.

"If it goes undiagnosed it can lead to communication and learning problems.

"People can mistake it for dyslexia or a number of other things."

Eight year-old Amelia Speight has APD and it affects her when she's in a noisy classroom or in the playground, or talking with her family with the television on.

Amelia is in year 3 at Diocesan School for Girls and wears a special hearing aid which filters the teacher's voice directly into her ears to make it easier for her brain to process what's being said. She also attends speech and language therapy sessions.

Her mum Tanya says she had not heard of the disorder before her daughter was diagnosed.

"I got bugged that school was too hard for her.

"You've got this bright young year 3 child who was not performing at the level the other children were.

"So I decided to take her to an educational psychologist who told me to check her eyesight and hearing. This was the first I had ever heard of APD.

"People mistake it as just a kid who finds it hard to concentrate when actually she's trying really hard to concentrate, but it gets tiring and frustrating because she's just not getting it."

She says the signs were subtle so parents need to pay attention to their children. "I'd ask her: `Honey can you go get the milk from the fridge?' She'll just look at me blankly and say: `I only heard mm ... and fridge'.

"There's a mismatch of distinguishing between noises that sound similar."Background noise and lots of people talking at once causes problems for children with APD."

by Esther Luaki
East & Bays Courier, 21 Dec 2011