originally published May 2019 / photos courtesy of Alicia Swann
“I’ve always been interested in the brain and the learning process,” says Alicia Swann. “I felt like this was a need that I was able to fill.”
About 43 percent of children with learning difficulties have auditory processing disorder (APD), but many go undiagnosed. Through her business, Auditory Processing Center in Clinton, audiologist Alicia Swann is helping bring awareness and treat this hidden disability so that students can better succeed in the classroom.
Originally from Montgomery, Alabama, Swann earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and her master’s degree in audiology from Auburn University. She spent 19 years working at a private school in Mississippi, where she helped deaf and hard-of-hearing children speak. Though she was working with multiple aspects of hearing and speech problems, Swann became well-known for her expertise with auditory processing disorders.
Feeling called to specialize in this particular area, Swann opened her own private practice in 2014. Auditory Processing Center is the only one of its kind in Mississippi, offering fully individualized evaluations, therapy, and intervention for children with auditory processing disorder.
“I branched out on faith,” says Swann. “I’ve always wanted to help people, and God opened the door for me to do so.”
Swann says children with APD often exhibit symptoms that look like hearing loss when they actually have a problem receiving and processing the information they are hearing. Children with APD are often distracted by background noises or are sensitive to loud sounds. They may struggle with reading or have problems distinguishing the differences between words.
About 70 percent of children diagnosed with dyslexia have an underlying auditory processing disorder. If APD is not diagnosed and treated, it makes it much harder to make progress with dyslexia therapy. It’s also common for children with APD to be misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other developmental problems because their attention issue might really be a side effect of an auditory issue.
The great news is that APD is treatable. Swann and her knowledgeable team at Auditory Processing Center are able to test for and treat APD so that students have a better chance of focusing in school.
“The thing about APD is that there are many types,” says Swann. “No two kids are exactly alike.”
The evaluation can take the majority of a day in order to provide a comprehensive assessment. Swann says she strives to offer thorough evaluations so she can recommend the best treatment for each child.
“It’s more than just a hearing test,” she says. “Many children with APD can pass a hearing test, but there’s still an underlying problem with how they process what they hear.”
Only an audiologist that is professionally trained in specialized tests to evaluate the central auditory nervous system can diagnose or rule out APD. Because Auditory Processing Center provides an evaluation not offered by most audiologists, families are traveling to Clinton from beyond the state to take advantage of the specialized treatment. Swann has seen patients from as far as Indiana and Oklahoma, and consultations are done nationwide, as well as internationally.
“Most audiologists do not perform Auditory Processing Evaluations, and the few that do usually don’t provide treatment,” says Swann. “I feel like I am making a difference by providing a service that many others don’t.”
APD is often treated in stages, and some of the treatment may be done at home through the internet and specialized apps. By testing a child before and after APD treatment, Swann has seen test scores improve, but more importantly, students’ academic performance, self-confidence, and ability to pay attention in class drastically increase.
Suzanne Herrin and her 9-year-old son, Owen, began traveling from Alabama to Clinton last May to see Alicia. Herrin says that Owen, who has sensory processing disorder, had trouble listening, speaking, and reading from an early age. After an evaluation and several weeks of treatments, Herrin says Owen’s teachers noticed a dramatic difference.
“He really blossomed after the sessions,” says Herrin. “His grades have improved. He’s processing things faster and is more engaged while talking. Even his handwriting has improved. He used to get so frustrated when doing school work, but he’s more confident and wants to participate in the world around him. We are very thankful to Alicia and her team for helping us put the pieces together.”
“It has been a major difference,” says the mother of Rivers, age 7. “Her reading comprehension has really improved. She was making 40’s to 60’s last year in Language Arts, and now she is making A’s, even many 100’s.”
After receiving therapy for lazy ear, college student Michaela says, “I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to focus better in small group conversations, and my friends have even noticed this as well. I hardly struggle to hear in one-on-one conversations anymore and I feel like a lot of my listening in general has become easier. I’ve noticed a lot of improvement.”
“Some treatment takes longer than others,” says Swann. “But we’ve never worked with a child who did not improve.”
Alicia and her husband, Chris, have three children—Brady, Cody, and Caleb. When she’s not working, Alicia enjoys traveling, reading, and spending quality time with family.
For more information about APD and to schedule an evaluation with Auditory Processing Center, call 601.488.4189 or visit http://www.auditorycenter.com.