12/13/2012 11:47 EST | Updated 02/12/2013 05:12 EST

Hearing disorder often misdiagnosed as ADHD in kids, experts warn

OTTAWA - A little-known hearing disorder affecting two to three per cent of Canadian children is being misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, health advocates say.

The symptoms of auditory processing disorder (APD), which affects the way brain processes sound, are similar to ADHD — short attention spans, anxiety and difficulty reading.

Not enough doctors are aware of the disorder or its similarities with the more widely known ADHD, said Chantal Kealey, an audiologist with the Canadian Association of Speech-language Pathologists and Audiologists.

"Of course, as audiologists, we are well aware of this, but we're not with the children in their school systems all the time, so we really want to raise awareness," Kealey told a news conference Thursday on Parliament Hill.

Kealey's organization has released new national guidelines that she said she hopes doctors will start using to screen children for APD when they present with symptoms suggestive of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"This has no relation to their level of intelligence; they could be the brightest individuals ever," Kealey said.

"It's just that they learn a little bit differently and you need to hone in on where those areas are."

Children with APD will have different problems, she added, and the treatment has to be tailored to the specific difficulties the child is facing.

"[The treatment] should try to maximize where they are better learners."

Benoit Jutras, a Universite de Montreal audiology researcher, said the new guidelines call for a more "holistic" approach to treating children with APD.

Children have to be examined in their different environments — both home and school — and receive help where they have issues, he said.

"There is no pill you can give to the child to cure this, but we are focusing on the difficulties the child has," Jutras said.

That includes giving teachers and parents the tools to address APD-related problems, he added.

"You have to work with the child, but also with the environment."