What is Auditory Processing Disorder? Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

The "disorder" part of APD means that something is adversely affecting the interpretation of the information.

Auditory Processing Disorder, or APD, means that something is negatively affecting the brain’s ability to process or interpret auditory information.

Auditory Processing Disorders, while gathering a bit more attention every day, are still relatively unheard of by many people and often misunderstood. 

One of the difficulties in identifying Auditory Processing Disorders – typically shortened to APD – is that they can present themselves as a variety of other disorders, most commonly ADHD. Another difficulty is that there are different subtypes of auditory processing disorders and individuals with APD can present differently from one another. 

The other difficulty is that traditional identification of APD (i.e., speech and/or audiological testing without cognitive testing and/or neurodevelopmental testing) does not rule out the presence of other potential disorders that can confound a diagnosis. 

As a result, individuals – most commonly children – may spend years receiving inappropriate treatment and ultimately still struggle academically, linguistically, behaviorally, and/or socially. 

What is Auditory Processing?

  • Auditory processing is what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets the sounds around you.

  • Humans hear sound through the ear and it is then interpreted by the brain.

  • The “disorder” part of APD means that something is adversely affecting the interpretation of the information; this happens in the brain, not the ear.

  • Auditory Processing problems are not the same as hearing loss.

Possible Symptoms of an Auditory Processing Disorder

There are many symptoms of APD and they can be broken down into the categories of Communication, Linguistic, Academic, and Social-Emotional.

Not all individuals exhibit the same symptoms and not everyone exhibits all of them. Below are lists of some of the signs and symptoms that individuals with APD may show. 

Some Symptoms of Communication Include:

  • Having increased difficulty understanding in noisy environments.

  • Having difficulty following multi-step directions.

  • Having weak expressive language (e.g., using words incorrectly, phrasing sentences awkwardly, etc.).

  • Having trouble remembering spoken information.

  • Becoming frustrated with verbally-presented tasks (e.g., saying “I don’t understand,” “I can’t do this,” or “I don’t know what you mean”).

  • Needing information repeated.

  • Making comments that seem to be unrelated to the conversation.

  • Frequently saying “huh?” or “what?”

Some Linguistic Signs Include…

  • Difficulty with phonics or speech sounds.

  • Articulation errors that persist longer than they should.

  • Confusing similar sounding words (e.g., “hop/hot”).

  • Poor phonological awareness skills (i.e., correctly understanding individual sounds like /b/ and /p/).

  • Problems with rhyming or identifying words that start with the same letter, etc.

  • Having difficulty singing along to songs and learning the words.

  • Having difficulty comprehending rapidly spoken speech.

  • Having a hard time remembering and/or comprehending spoken information.

Some Academic Signs Include:

  • Poor receptive language.

  • Having difficulty participating in class discussions.

  • Difficulty taking notes in class.

  • Difficulty learning a foreign language.

  • Difficulty with reading and/or spelling.

  • Difficulty with complex language such as word problems.

Some Social-Emotional Symptoms Include:

  • Socializing less than peers.

  • Seeming distracted, bored, or confused when conversations or activities do not include visuals.

  • Using more “parallel play” than interactive play.

  • Preferring visual or interactive tasks to auditory tasks (e.g., listening to stories).

  • Seeming to “daydream” or be “in a world of his/her own”.

  • Appearance of hypersensitivity to sound.

  • Having poor social communication skills.

Testing for an Auditory Processing Disorder

Testing for APD should include ruling out the presence of other disorders or weaknesses that can impact auditory processing, the most common being attention problems like ADHD. 

The best way to do this is by conducting APD testing as part of a full neurodevelopmental evaluation or psychoeducational evaluation or once a full evaluation has been completed and other issues have been ruled out. 

A comprehensive assessment evaluates a variety of aspects of functioning such as attention, language, reasoning, processing/retrieval/production speed, motor skills, visual-spatial skills, academic skills, social-emotional, etc. 

Testing for APD should include assessing for the presence of an APD, identifying the type(s) of APD, identifying the ways that they may be impacting an individual’s learning and functioning, and making related recommendations. 

Treating an Auditory Processing Disorder

There are many ways to treat and support individuals with APD.

The most common treatment for APD is speech and language therapy to address an individual’s identified weak areas of auditory processing (e.g., speech discrimination, auditory working memory, auditory comprehension, etc.).

This therapy typically includes working one-on-one with a speech-language therapist, but may also include working with computerized programs to improve auditory processing.

Support for APD is exceptionally important and typically takes the form of accommodations within the school setting. 

Common accommodations for individuals with APD are preferential seating, the use of visuals (e.g., overheads, etc.), notetakers for class lessons/lectures, assistive-listening technology such as FM systems, front-loading (i.e., getting lessons presented ahead of time, and extended time on tests just to name a few. 

Seek out a specialist in the area of APD to help you find the support that you need!

View some other Psych in 60 videos to learn more about Auditory Processing Disorders.

Click here for more content by Barrie Morganstein, Ph.D.!


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