Auditory processing disorder



What is auditory processing disorder?

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a hearing problem where the brain is unable to process sounds in the normal way.

Kids with this condition can’t process what they hear in the same way other kids do because their ears and brain don’t fully coordinate. Something interferes with the way the brain recognizes and interprets sounds, especially speech.

How common is auditory processing disorder?

Auditory processing disorder affects about 5% of school-aged children. It can affect people of all ages, but often starts in childhood. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of auditory processing disorder?

APD can affect people in many different ways. A child with APD may appear to have a hearing impairment, but this isn’t usually the case and testing often shows their hearing is normal.

It can affect your ability to:

  • Understand speech – particularly if there’s background noise, more than one person speaking, the person is speaking quickly, or the sound quality is poor
  • Distinguish similar sounds from one another – such as “shoulder versus soldier” or “cold versus called”
  • Concentrate when there’s background noise – this can lead to difficulty understanding and remembering instructions, as well as difficulty speaking clearly and problems with reading and spelling
  • Enjoy music

Many people with APD find it becomes less of an issue over time as they develop the skills to deal with it.

Although children may need extra help and support at school, they can be as successful as their classmates.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes auditory processing disorder?

The causes of APD aren’t fully understood. Some cases in children may be related to having glue ear when they were younger. It may also be caused by a faulty gene, as some cases seem to run in families.

In both adults and children, APD is sometimes linked with brain damage from a head injury, stroke, brain tumour or meningitis.

It can also be caused by a traumatic birth where there’s a significant lack of oxygen to the brain, severe jaundice and brain haemorrhages.

Some cases in adults have also been linked to age-related changes in the brain’s ability to process sounds and progressive conditions that affect the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for auditory processing disorder?

There are many risk factors for auditory processing disorder, such as:

  • Frequent ear infections
  • Premature birth
  • History of speech, occupational, or physical therapy
  • Mixed dominance
  • Family history of learning problems

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is auditory processing disorder diagnosed?

f you think your child is having trouble hearing or understanding when people talk, have an audiologist (hearing specialist) exam your child. Only audiologists can diagnose auditory processing disorder.

Audiologists look for five main problem areas in kids with APD:

  • Auditory figure-ground problems: This is when a child can’t pay attention if there’s noise in the background. Noisy, loosely structured classrooms could be very frustrating.
  • Auditory memory problems: This is when a child has difficulty remembering information such as directions, lists, or study materials. It can be immediate (“I can’t remember it now”) and/or delayed (“I can’t remember it when I need it for later”).
  • Auditory discrimination problems: This is when a child has difficulty hearing the difference between words or sounds that are similar (COAT/BOAT or CH/SH). This can affect following directions and reading, spelling, and writing skills, among others.
  • Auditory attention problems: This is when a child can’t stay focused on listening long enough to complete a task or requirement (such as listening to a lecture in school). Kids with CAPD often have trouble maintaining attention, although health, motivation, and attitude also can play a role.
  • Auditory cohesion problems: This is when higher-level listening tasks are difficult. Auditory cohesion skills — drawing inferences from conversations, understanding riddles, or comprehending verbal math problems — require heightened auditory processing and language levels. They develop best when all the other skills (levels 1 through 4 above) are intact.

Since most of the tests done to check for APD require a child to be at least 7 or 8 years old, many kids aren’t diagnosed until then or later.

How is auditory processing disorder treated?

There are no medications to treat auditory processing disorder. However, some kids with auditory processing disorder also have ADHD or anxiety, which can be treated with medicine.

It’s best to talk with your doctor if you think your child is dealing with ADHD or anxiety. Together, you can come up with a treatment plan that may or may not include medication.

Sound discrimination is one of the main difficulties for kids with auditory processing disorder. This means they can have trouble hearing the difference between certain sounds or may hear certain sounds incorrectly. As a result, they may say dat for that, or free for three.

Speech therapy can help kids with auditory processing disorder make those sounds better and more clearly. Speech therapists can also help kids learn to:

  • Improve perception of individual sounds (phonemes) in words, which can help with reading skills
  • Develop active listening skills, like asking a person to repeat directions
  • Use language appropriately in social situations

Kids with auditory processing disorder might get frustrated about school. Imagine not being able to understand what the teacher is saying! If your child is dealing with frustration, you might want to explore educational therapy. This can helps kids with different kinds of learning and attention issues develop strategies for working around their issues and dealing with frustration.

Auditory training therapy (sometimes called auditory integration therapy) is an alternative treatment for kids with auditory processing disorder. This includes auditory training programs like the Berard Auditory Integration Training Services and Fast ForWord. A main goal of these programs is to improve listening comprehension through various activities or games.

Keep in mind that auditory training therapy is somewhat controversial. There isn’t a lot of research that shows it works. But there is anecdotal evidence that it’s helpful for some kids.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage auditory processing disorder?

  • The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with auditory processing disorder:
  • Reduce background noise whenever possible at home and at school.
  • Have your child look at you when you’re speaking.
  • Use simple, expressive sentences.
  • Speak at a slightly slower rate and at a mildly increased volume.
  • Ask your child to repeat the directions back to you and to keep repeating them aloud (to you or to himself or herself) until the directions are completed.
  • For directions that are to be completed later, writing notes, wearing a watch, or maintaining a household routine can help. So can general organization and scheduling.
  • It can be frustrating for kids with APD when they’re in a noisy setting and they need to listen. Teach your child to notice noisy environments and move to quieter places when listening is necessary.
  • Provide your child with a quiet study place (not the kitchen table).
  • Maintain a peaceful, organized lifestyle.
  • Encourage good eating and sleeping habits.
  • Assign regular and realistic chores, including keeping a neat room and desk.
  • Build your child’s self-esteem.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Review Date: September 7, 2017 | Last Modified: September 7, 2017