What Is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a hearing problem characterized by deficits in how the brain processes auditory input. Children with APD struggle to make sense of what they hear — a symptom that is easily mistaken for other conditions and learning disabilities. This overview of APD clarifies common misconceptions and offers targeted strategies of support.

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a  problem that occurs when the ears and brain are not in sync. This disconnect can cause a range of challenges – struggles with auditory discrimination, with listening in noisy environments, with remembering what you’ve heard, and with recalling the sequence of words spoken – that may resemble (and co-occur with) other conditions.

APD may interfere with learning, however it is not correlated with intelligence. It may cause communication difficulties, but it does not show up in traditional auditory tests for hearing loss. It is a misunderstood and largely overlooked condition that may appear in 3% to 5% of all children.

Auditory Processing Disorder: Overview

Normal auditory processing occurs when the brain receives auditory input and processes the information into something meaningful at an acceptable speed. Auditory processing disorder may cause deficits at any point in this process. Difficulties associated with APD commonly fall into these categories:

  • Auditory discrimination: noticing and differentiating similar but unique sounds
  • Auditory memory: remembering what was heard
  • Auditory sequencing: recalling words and directions in the correct order
  • Auditory figure ground: discerning and processing a single audio input amid competing stimuli (e.g., background noise)
  • Auditory cohesion difficulty, or problems processing when undertaking higher-level listening tasks (e.g., difficulty drawing inferences from conversation, picking up on tone and inflection, understanding riddles.)2

Auditory Processing Disorder: Common Signs and Challenges

The signs of auditory processing disorder often include the following daily challenges and manifestations:

  • Trouble following verbal directions (“Huh? What did you say?”)
  • A blank stare when spoken to; may appear distracted or unfocused
  • Trouble following conversations with multiple speakers or background noise, no matter how minimal (“It’s too noisy in here!”)
  • Difficulty distinguishing similar-sounding words, like “coat” and “boat”
  • Trouble following multi-step directions in the correct order
  • Noticeable delay in responding to conversational questions

In addition to these communication difficulties, APD may trigger the following additional challenges for students:

  • Behavior problems: Auditory processing issues can cause children to feel embarrassed and frustrated. They may react by becoming defensive, or cover by acting disinterested. Teachers sometimes assume that students with undiagnosed APD are ignoring instructions and displaying defiance.
  • Poor social skills: Difficulty keeping up with conversations, especially in loud, active environments (like the playground, school auditorium, and classroom), can cause children to miss out on friendships and other connections. They might withdraw from social settings or compensate by acting as the class clown, or by pretending they don’t care.
  • Anxiety: When children can’t trust that what they’ve heard is accurate, they may feel flustered and stressed, which could contribute to anxiety, which further impairs auditory processing.
  • Academic challenges: Poor auditory processing abilities could put children at a greater risk for learning difficulties,  and research suggests that many children with APD also have comorbid language or reading impairment. APD affects a child’s ability to interpret information (a problem when so much of it is delivered verbally in the classroom), which is fundamental for learning.

Excerpted from “What Is Auditory Processing Disorder? Symptoms, Comorbidities, and Exercises” in ADDitude Magazine. For more details and strategies to help children with APD, read the full article online.

Source: ADDitude Magazine | What Is Auditory Processing Disorder? Symptoms, Comorbidities, and Exercises, https://www.additudemag.com/what-is-auditory-processing-disorder-symptoms-exercises | Copyright © 1998 – 2022 WebMD LLC

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