Auditory Processing Disorders

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a broad term encapsulating various neurological problems that affect the brain’s ability to process auditory information efficiently. Children with APD usually have normal hearing, but an abnormality in the central nervous system affects the brain's interpretation of sound. It is important to realize that many disorders and diseases cause brain process dysfunction, but APD is an independent auditory deficit and is not the result of higher-order impairments, like ADD or autism. Children with APD have difficulty recognizing the difference between similar sounding words, especially in noisy environments. APD can be congenital or acquired. Five percent of all school age children suffer from APD. 


In most cases, the cause of APD is unknown. However, some incidents of head trauma and chronic ear infections can cause APD.


These characteristics are associated with APD:

  • Poor listening skills
  • Low academic performance
  • Needing extra time to process new information
  • Unable to focus in noisy environments
  • Preference to written communication
  • Appearing as though they have hearing problems, like asking people to repeat themselves
  • Having a hard time following conversations


A team approach is the best way to identify and assess APD. Teachers and parents usually are the first to notice the disorder. A variety of physicians, like psychologists and speech-language pathologists may shed light on a child’s specific problems. Ultimately, however, the actual diagnosis of APD must be made by an audiologist. An audiologist will perform a series of tests to see how the child responds to different sounds. Children typically can not be diagnosed until the age of seven or eight because brain functioning varies greatly in younger children, making test interpretation very difficult and/or inconclusive. 


APD is a complex and diverse disorder; accordingly there is not one cure-all that will always be effective. Treatments for APD are case sensitive and must be assessed individually. Some treatments use a compensatory approach, which aims to improve cognitive skills like attention and memory to help overcome the auditory deficit. Environmental modifications aim to alter the child’s learning environment, so that they can focus more on the auditory message. 

The study of auditory processing has increased greatly in recent years, and much information surrounding APD is still being debated. More research is needed to completely understand the causes of the disorder and the best intervention methods.

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