What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 December 2018
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Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a condition characterized by normal hearing, but an inability to process sounds. In a patient with auditory processing disorder, there are no functional abnormalities which cause hearing impairment, but the brain has difficulty perceiving sounds and interpreting them in meaningful ways. This condition is tricky to diagnose, and it is sometimes mistaken for a learning disability or another type of brain development disorder, which can hamper treatment.

Children with auditory processing disorder have difficulty distinguishing between sounds, even when the differences are very clear. This can lead to problems with language development, and it can also cause issues like a short attention span, poor ability to follow directions, behavioral problems, lackluster academic performance, and a high level of distractability. Children with APD often have trouble working in noisy environments, and they have difficulty understanding complex auditory input, such as multi-step directions which are delivered orally.

The early signs of auditory processing disorder may be identified by a parent, caregiver, or teacher. Because they are commonly mistaken for signs of a learning disability, the child may be referred to a specialist in learning disabilities, or to a speech-language pathologist, who may determine that an auditory processing problem is occurring, and refer the patient to an audiologist. Audiologists are best qualified to diagnose and treat this condition, and they may work as part of a team of health care providers assembled to determine why a child is having difficulties.


Diagnosis of an auditory processing disorder usually involves extensive hearing testing to confirm that hearing is normal, and specific testing for the hallmark signs of auditory processing disorder. Once diagnosed, the patient can receive treatment which may vary from educational support to the use of devices to help the patient hear and understand spoken communications. Treatment is not one size fits all, and it requires patience from parents and teachers to support the child as he or she learns to cope with the condition.

Sometimes, an auditory processing disorder is associated with other conditions, and in other cases, it can occur alone. Because diagnosis of developmental problems is very complex and highly variable, it may help to see several specialists to explore a diagnosis in full and get a second opinion for confirmation. Failure to diagnose brain development disorders properly can result in serious problems for a patient as he or she may not receive the most appropriate treatment.



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