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The Reality of Auditory Processing and Our Online World

Finding accurate online information to guide our choices as parents isn't easy.

  • Finding the truth online about central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) proves to be very difficult, as there is no accurate summary of research.
  • Biases in your own search terms and the search engine's algorithm itself can lead you to misinformation in general.
  • To counteract bias, notice what you believe and then ask yourself: Is it true?

A family recently came to me whose child has a reading disability. Among other recommendations, their school had requested an auditory processing evaluation. Central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) is the concept that some children have a hard time "processing" what they hear which then affects their learning or behavior. Talking to this family, and their school, I discovered once again what parents face when trying to find sound advice online today.

This crisis of misinformation escalates parents’ stress while often providing misguided direction. There is no straightforward way to sort out what is valid around child development on the internet. The widening information gap between fact and fiction undermines problem-solving for anything we face as parents and, outside of our families, on a global scale too.

The Facts About Auditory Processing

If you search online for “What is the role of auditory processing in reading?” you find this:

Mark Bertin
Source: Mark Bertin

On the other hand, if you search online for, “Is auditory processing real?” you find this:

Mark Bertin
Source: Mark Bertin

One search implies that the school district should focus its efforts on effective reading instruction. The other search demands that his parents should spend time and money on an intervention for auditory processing outside of the school district. What’s a family to do?

Controversial as it may seem, CAPD is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) at all. This manual is our standard guide for child development and mental health diagnosis based on the latest research. The science is inconclusive at best regarding CAPD related diagnosis and interventions. A still valid 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics suggested, for example, that CAPD “is primarily an attention problem” and “clinical diagnosis and management, as well as further research, should be based on that premise.”

In both medicine and psychology, CAPD is not seen as an independent disorder. The symptom of difficulty with “auditory processing” is felt to be caused by other conditions such as language delays or attention deficits. Understanding this information about CAPD simplifies a complicated and stressful situation for any family, a child having trouble with behavior or learning.

Dozens of websites post articles about CAPD without emphasizing the basic fact that it is not a well-defined diagnosis. Conversely, there is no easily found, accurate summary of CAPD research and why the DSM-5 leaves CAPD out. Figuring out the truth about CAPD seems a near futile online task.

The Facts About Facts

Interventions such as speech-language therapy, targeted academic interventions, and treating ADHD all are evidence-based and useful. Auditory processing evaluations and treatments are not likely to impact children. This information about auditory processing is obviously vital to decision-making.

Around parenting, education, or nuanced topics like politics or the climate, remaining unbiased when seeking facts is not easy. For starters, there is a human tendency to seek out information that confirms what we already believe. Since there is an excess of information online, nowadays we can always find that kind of affirming but sometimes inaccurate data.

There’s even a cognitive bias built into how we ask our questions. Framing a question as “Is climate change real?” versus “Is climate change fake?” affects what facts stick most in our minds. We again unintentionally focus more on whatever supports our beliefs. That mental pattern alone makes writing factually today about near any topic a fascinating exercise in trying to stay neutral.

Disturbingly, our search engines are biased too. They have algorithms that sort for us the deluge of information available online. Search providers frequently present us with what we are more likely to click on, which is generally what scares us — or what we already believe. What seems like an open-ended search for truth feeds us information that instead biases our beliefs further.

Finding Solid Ground

When teaching mindfulness, we often introduce a practice of questioning our inner stories. Notice what you believe and then ask yourself: Is it true?

Pause a moment and consider what you’ve heard. My child has an auditory processing disorder… or fill in the blank with whatever else you’ve encountered. Some of it fits what you know, some of it is new to you, and some things may seem off. Until you're confident you have the unbiased information needed to make your best choice, consider that your beliefs could be right or wrong. Keep fact-finding until you feel you have a clear sense of what seems true.

Even in our polarized world, we can all agree on some facts. If you drop something heavy on earth it falls to the ground. Right now, today, we cannot affect how the internet presents information, so the industry isn’t helping us recognize what is true. More in our control may be teaching ourselves, and our children, the skill of skeptically fact-checking: We can all learn to question what we hear, explore our own biases, and seek out valid information sources as best as we’re able.

If a child is behind in reading, the academic supports they require are well defined. If you believe everything you hear (don’t worry about evidence-based reading instruction, it’s really a processing disorder) you’ll increase your own stress and complicate life. For both parents and children, pause before acting, seek objectivity and clarity, and ask yourself often regarding what you find: Is it true?

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