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Special Needs: Central Auditory Processing Disorder

Children just seem to not listen or pay attention as much anymore. This could be due to the noisy environments we now live in that make it difficult to listen. Or it could be caused by what many consider the attention deficit disorder of the new millennium-central auditory processing disorder (CAPD).

What is CAPD? It's a disorder that causes children to have trouble processing information they take in through their hearing even though they may have normal hearing (acuity) and average or above average intelligence.

Often the cause isn't known, but the prevalence of this disorder is increasing dramatically. It's critical that children are diagnosed at a young age, because of the fast rate at which the brain is developing and creating auditory pathways. Early diagnosis helps reduce the effects of CAPD on the child's expressive language, self-image, and ability to learn compensatory strategies at a young age.

What does CAPD look like? The child has trouble following verbal directions, may appear to be daydreaming, talks louder, ignores people, usually is sensitive to sounds, needs information repeated, is a poor communicator (delayed or unclear speech), and has problems memorizing.

The child may also confuse similar sounding words, has trouble following a series of directions, and has a short attention span. Sometimes the child has a history of ear infections (otitis media).

What are practical ways to minister to children with CAPD? There are many things that children's ministers can do to help a child with CAPD. Most important is to assure the child that he or she is wonderfully made by God.

In addition, use these strategies:

  • Decrease background noise when you're talking, maybe even finding a quiet place to talk.
  • Give shorter and specific directions with visual aids.
  • Have the child repeat directions back to you to help ensure that the child heard what you said.
  • Give the child extra time to think about answers to questions.
  • Face the child when you're speaking.
  • Consider placing the child near you in the classroom.
  • Give lots of praise to the child.
  • Be patient.
  • Don't allow other children to make fun of the "silly" mistakes the child sometimes makes.
  • Have the child use earplugs or ear muffs during study time.
  • Slow your speaking patterns so the child can keep up with you.
  • Break down new information into steps.
  • Use activities that involve repetition.
  • Begin your lesson with a review of what has already been taught.
  • Welcome the child into your class.

[Q]: We have a child in our ministry who can't keep up with the stories and activities we do in class. Do we put the child in another classroom where he can keep up or keep him with his peers?

[A]: Many things need to be taken into consideration when making this kind of decision. The decision needs to be made with parental involvement as you consider sibling situations, curriculum, staffing, and the classroom environment. The most important factor is where the child feels most comfortable. If the child prefers to stay in a class with same-age peers, look for a volunteer to help the child in those times he can't keep up with the class. You'll need someone with patience and sensitivity to fill this role.


Sally Castle is associate professor of special education at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.
Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change. Originally published in March-April, 2003 in Children's Ministry Magazine.

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