What is Central Auditory Processing Disorder?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 15 April 2018
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Central auditory processing disorder is a condition that affects a person's ability to comprehend sound in a meaningful way. A person with central auditory processing disorder generally has normal hearing but does not always process the sounds heard in a way that leads to understanding. This disorder is difficult to diagnose because it is difficult to determine how a person is processing information and what is causing the person's problems with understanding. Often, problems with understanding speech, avoidance of background noise, and learning disabilities will be present in people with this disorder. There is no known cure for this condition, but problems caused by this condition can often be reduced by training the brain to hear differently or reducing background noise when attempting to understand information.

Many people experience difficulties at some point deciphering noise into meaningful words and sounds. For instance, in a crowded room a person with normal hearing and normal processing may have difficulty making sense of what another person is saying. A person with central auditory processing disorder may experience similar difficulties but under much less distracting situations. The difference between a person with normal processing and a person with central auditory processing disorder is one of degree, because everyone has a threshold at which sound is no longer intelligible.


For some people, central auditory processing disorder can be so severe that it disrupts learning. A person may have difficulty learning during childhood, and this may cause problems later on. Learning disabilities related to this disorder have little to do with how intelligent someone is because information is not reaching the brain in a coherent way. This disorder can also occur with true learning disabilities, in which case improvements in auditory processing will make little difference.

Other possible symptoms of a central auditory processing disorder that may be recognizable in children include being upset or frustrated at the presence of noise, having trouble remembering information given orally, or looking at a person's mouth during conversation. People who have this disorder frequently develop coping mechanisms, such as avoidance of loud areas, writing things down, and instinctive lip reading. Some of these mechanisms may cause social problems, but this is rare in high-functioning individuals. In fact, many people with central auditory processing disorder never know that they have it and therefore never seek treatment.

Treatments for this disorder are relatively unsuccessful, and coping strategies are generally advised. It may be possible to treat this condition with forms of auditory training, but these have not been proven effective. One strategy that works well in classrooms is having the teacher wear a microphone and the student wear a hearing device, blocking out all background noise. For adults, the best strategy is almost always to develop effective coping mechanisms and to seek information in written form. Finalizing important interactions, such as those related to work, in email form can help drastically when keeping details straight, and simply asking coworkers for email confirmation on things said in conversation can often completely eliminate this disorder’s professional effects.



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