What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

An individual with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) may have difficulty processing voices, sounds or language that they have heard. Individuals with this condition will usually have normal hearing, and so Auditory Processing Disorder isn’t necessarily due to a problem with hearing, it is more due to an inability to interpret the meaning of a sound.

Understanding Auditory Processing Disorder

Hearing isn’t normally a problem for people with Auditory Processing Disorder. Individuals with this condition can normally hear sounds without an issue, but interpreting that sound once it reaches the brain is usually where the issue lies. There may be further problems if an individual with APD is listening to someone with a strong accent, as the words may sound different to what the brain is accustomed to interpreting. Sentences that contain similar words can prove problematic as well, as the individual may have difficulty differentiating between the words.

People with Auditory Processing Disorder will usually go through the process of sounds travelling into their inner ear, before being directed to the brain. Once the sound reaches the brain, there is a limitation or a blockage with the interpretation and the individual will often be unable to process the meaning. An individual with this condition may be able to hear and understand words in general, but listening to fast talkers or people with strong, regional accents can prove difficult.

understanding auditory processing disorder

Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory Processing Disorder will usually start during early life, but the condition can develop at any age. Symptoms can include:

  • If an individual appears to struggle to understand what is being said during a conversation when someone is talking quickly, has a strong accent or there is a lot of background noise, the individual may have Auditory Processing Disorder.
  • An individual may become confused by words that sound similar, such as “might” and “night”.
  • An individual may struggle to understand instructions that they have heard, which may prove problematic at school or work.

Tests for Auditory Processing Disorder

Parents are usually advised to monitor their child’s symptoms until they are around primary school age, so that there is sufficient time to allow the individual to develop their characteristics. By this age, it should be more realistic to determine whether an individual has a hearing impairment of a difficulty processing sound.

tests for auditory processing disorder

If an Auditory Processing Disorder is suspected, the individual may be asked to take part in a test to determine their hearing capabilities. The test will normally involve asking the individual to sit in a noisy room, or listen to a recording of a voice with some surrounding background noise. This scenario will allow the assessor to observe what sounds the individual is able to interpret. This test will also provide some insight into how background noise affects the individual.

Another test that can be tried is an assessment using similar sounds. This may seem similar to an eye test, whereby an individual is usually asked if they can tell the difference between two similar images. It’s a similar story for this assessment. An individual can be provided with two sounds that have a small difference between them, and the assessor will focus on what the individual reports that they can hear, and whether they can determine the difference between the sounds.

Auditory Processing Disorder treatment

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a condition which does not have a cure, much like many other learning difficulties. But as with conditions such as Dyspraxia, Dyslexia and ADHD, there are ways to manage the condition.

People with APD can be offered a treatment called Auditory Training, which is where an individual will work with a hearing specialist to improve their hearing ability, and the individual will be taught different methods to focus on the specific sound that they are listening to, which should reduce the effect of background noise.

At school, children can be provided with a special device which will allow their ears to bypass any sounds from the surrounding environment, and give the individual a direct line to their teacher’s voice.

Methods you can use to help an individual with Auditory Processing Disorder

  • Speak to the individual face to face. Preferably in person. Although you can speak to people face to face over Skype, Zoom or other video calling software, this may not allow an individual with auditory processing difficulties to get the full benefit. Talking face to face, in person, can allow the individual to hear your voice clearly, and allow some communication over the volume or speed that you are required to talk at and, in some cases, lip reading may be necessary.

  • Visual cues can also help a person with an auditory processing issue. This will allow you to have options over the best form of communication to use. If the individual has good eyesight and no visual processing issues, then holding up pictures or photos of what you are asking them, may be beneficial. For example, if you are offering the individual a cup of tea, you could hold up a photo of a teapot. Sometimes, it may also be easier to simply send the individual a text message.

  • Repetition can be a useful way of communicating with an individual with APD. If you can see that the individual has had difficulty hearing what you said, repeating or rephrasing your sentence can be helpful. Rephrasing or simplifying a sentence can also make the situation easier. For example, instead of asking the individual if they want chips with a meal, you could simply say “chips?”.

  • Changing the layout or contents of your house can be useful too. Carpets can reduce background noise significantly, and so if you have wooden floors in your house then you could consider putting a carpet down in those areas of the house.

Methods to avoid using:

  • Try to avoid wearing a mask or any other item that might cause your words to be misheard, misinterpreted or difficult to understand.

  • Simple sentences are useful. Try to avoid complex language or technical jargon.

  • Try not to talk too quickly. Ask the individual about their preferences in terms of how quickly they would like you to speak.

  • Try to avoid speaking to the individual in a noisy environment. Make sure televisions and radios around the house are switched off.

Causes of Auditory Processing Disorder

There are a number of possibilities for causes of Auditory Processing Disorder. An ear infection can cause processing difficulties with hearing. If an individual has recently been involved in an accident and sustained injuries to their head, an auditory processing disorder can occur.

Auditory Processing Disorder can also be diagnosed alongside many other conditions such as Dyslexia and ADHD. These conditions can often affect an individual’s ability to focus and absorb information, and so those symptoms can increase the difficulty with processing sounds.

causes of auditory processing disorder


Auditory Processing Disorder is different from a hearing impairment, as an individual will usually not have any overall hearing difficulties. But an individual may have trouble understanding or interpreting what they have heard.

An auditory processing disorder tends to occur when sounds reach the brain via the inner ear, where there is a blockage or a problem interpreting the sound.

Auditory Processing Disorder does not have a cure, but it is possible to treat and manage the condition to make an individual’s life easier. APD can be diagnosed via a hearing test, where an individual can be asked to listen to a specific voice in a noisy room, to see which sounds they are able to process.

You can help an individual with APD by speaking to them at a speed or volume that is suitable for their needs. It is also advisable not to wear a face mask or have anything covering your mouth when you are speaking to an individual with this condition. It is also advisable to keep your language simple and sentences short and concise, using visual cues if necessary.

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