Auditory Processing Disorders

Auditory Processing Disorders

An Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) refers to a variety of conditions that affect the
way the brain processes auditory information. APD is different from a hearing
impairment, in that individuals with APD generally have normal hearing ability. Rather,
an individual with APD cannot process the information they hear in the same way that
others do. This can lead to difficulties in recognizing and interpreting sounds, especially
the sounds involved in speech. Approximately 2-3% of children are affected with APD.
Males are twice as likely as females to be affected by the disorder. The ultimate causes
of APD are unknown.

The Committee of UK Medical Professionals Steering the UK Auditory Processing
Disorder Research Program have developed the following working definition of Auditory
Processing Disorders:

“APD results from impaired neural function and is characterized by poor recognition,
discrimination, separation, grouping, localization, or ordering of non-speech sounds. It
does not solely result from a deficit in general attention, language or other cognitive

APD can be difficult to diagnose in children. Often times, children who present with
symptoms of APD are misdiagnosed as having ADD/ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, or
other forms of autism. Though it is different from these disorders, it shares some overlap
and common characteristics with dyslexia and specific language impairment (SLI).
When individuals with APD experience an inability to process verbal information, they
do not process what is being said to them. Because people with APD are used to
guessing to fill in the processing gaps, they may not even be aware that they have
misunderstood something.

Children with APD often:

  • have trouble paying attention to and remembering information presented orally.
  • have problems carrying out multi-step directions given orally.
  • have poor listening skills.
  • need more time to process information
  • have low academic performance
  • have behavior problems
  • have language difficulties including reading, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary
  • rely on visually-presented information

Children with APD may also tend to be quiet or appear to be shy and even withdrawn
from their peers, due to their communication problems. As a result, in addition to
academic difficulties, developing social ties and interpersonal relationships can be
negatively affected by the presence of APD.

Recent research has shown that practice with basic auditory processing and auditory
training tasks may improve performance on auditory processing and phonemic awareness
tasks (Moore, 2005). Many of these tasks are incorporated into computer based auditory
training programs such as Earobics and Fast ForWord.

A speech language pathologist (SLP) conducts treatment for children with APD. An SLP
is specially trained to help a individuals with APD develop auditory discrimination skills,
particularly for speech sounds. Treatment plans based around developing phonological
awareness skills are useful for children who have difficulty blending or segmenting
sounds in words, which can affect reading and word decoding skills. Additional
treatment approaches can involve improving listening comprehension skills in both quiet
and noisy environments, and practice in following multi-step directions of increasing
length and complexity, in addition to other auditory training tasks.