What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

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Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), also known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) is the inability to process what we hear to what we understand. 

Key points

  • Auditory Processing Disorder affects a person’s ability to understand what they hear
  • It is most often noticed in early childhood when children have trouble with language, but don’t have hearing impairment
  • There are a number of different types and symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder

APD often presents from early childhood. Usually the child does not have hearing loss and they can hear the sounds perfectly, but they cannot always process the meaning. This can lead to a number of difficulties as the child grows up and children with Auditory Processing Disorder often benefit from extra support during schooling.

There is currently no known cause of APD, although it may be linked to chronic ear infections, premature birth or head trauma.

Children with APD may have no problems one day and then have difficulty understanding speech and sounds the next.

Symptoms of APD in children include:

  • Delayed language development
  • Struggling to listen effectively
  • Trouble in sequencing the sounds of words
  • Difficulty perceiving high frequency sounds (‘t’, ‘f’ ‘s’, ‘k’, ‘p’, ‘th’, ‘sh’)
  • Confusion when faced with similar sounds
  • Poor comprehension in a noisy environment 
  • Easily distracted by irrelevant background noise
  • Poor speech comprehension, often asking ‘What?’
  • Misunderstanding and poor memory for oral messages
  • Inconsistent responses to the same auditory stimuli
  • Difficulty with following directions
  • Difficulty in expressing desires
  • Delayed development of phonemic awareness leading to difficulties with reading, spelling or comprehension

If you notice any of the above signs in your child, visit your audiologist, GP or paediatrician. If your child is diagnosed with APD, you should be able to access support for their development, particularly through the education system.

There are a number of types of APD. These include:

  • Associative deficit – difficulty associating sounds with written language
  • Auditory decoding deficit – problems recognising sounds and decoding words or messages
  • Auditory integration deficit – trouble combining sound with other sensory cues that contribute to a message (for example, seeing a written word and knowing what it would sound like when spoken)
  • Organisational deficit – difficulty in organising sound to effectively decode the meaning of a given message
  • Prosodic deficit – speaking in a monotone, without rhythm or intonation, and not perceiving these subtleties in other speakers
  • Auditory hypersensitivity – background sounds cannot be ignored

Although it cannot be cured, APD can be treated with interventions that build auditory processing skills such as speech therapy, auditory training and phonemic awareness.

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