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Understanding Auditory Processing Disorder in Autism

May 29, 2023

For individuals with autism, auditory processing disorder in autism can make it difficult to understand and interpret sounds and speech. 

Those with autism already struggle in social settings, and difficulties understanding speech can make this situation even worse, leading to challenges in communication and social interactions. Understanding the causes and symptoms of APD in autism, as well as effective management strategies, can help individuals with autism better navigate the world around them.

What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a condition that affects the way a person’s brain processes sound. People with APD have difficulty understanding speech, even when the sound is loud and clear. They may also have difficulty following directions, paying attention, and participating in conversations.

APD is not a hearing problem, it’s a problem with processing the sound that the brain receives from the ears.

How are Auditory Processing Disorder and ADHD linked

How does auditory processing disorder affect people with autism?

Auditory processing disorder can have a significant impact on individuals with autism. It can make it difficult for them to understand speech, especially in noisy environments, and can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications. This makes social situations even more challenging, where communication is key. Also, those with autism may have difficulty filtering out irrelevant sounds, which can be overwhelming and distracting.

If you already struggle face social situations due to autism, APD can make the situation even worse. An autistic person may already be worried about being able to read the facial expressions of others, or understand social cues; then to make it worse, they find it hard to understand what it being said because they can’t properly process the sounds they hear.

auditory processing in autism - autistic adult looking confused talking to other coworkers as work

Therefore, it’s important for those with autism and their loved ones to be aware of these challenges and to work with professionals to develop strategies to manage the symptoms of both autism and APD.

APD is a common co-occurring condition with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s hard to know the exact figures, but many parents with autistic children report their children have problems filtering out sound, a common symptom of auditory processing disorder.

Symptoms of auditory processing disorder in autism

The symptoms of auditory processing disorder in autism can vary from person to person, but may include difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, trouble following directions, and difficulty distinguishing between similar sounds.

Individuals with auditory processing disorder may also have trouble filtering out background noise, which can make it difficult to focus on important sounds. They may also have trouble with language development and may struggle with reading and writing.

auditory processing disorder in autism - teenager looking confused while talking to other teenagers

Here’s some common symptoms of auditory processing disorder.

Someone with APD:

  • has poor listening skills
  • has difficulty hearing in background noise
  • has trouble following instructions
  • Experiences difficulty with sound discrimination (distinguishing when sounds are different/the same)
  • struggles academically
  • often responds with ‘huh?’ or ‘what?’
  • is easily distracted
  • is inattentive
  • learns better one-on-one

As you can imagine, if school or work interactions are already stressful due to autism, they’ll become even more stressful due to struggles with auditory processing.

Causes of auditory processing disorder in autism

The exact cause of APD is unknown, but it’s believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some of the potential causes or contributors to APD include:

  • Genetics: APD appears to run in families, so if you have a family member with APD, you’re at an increased risk of developing it.
  • Premature birth or low birth weight: Children who are born prematurely or with a low birth weight may be at increased risk of developing APD.
  • Head injury: A head injury that affects the brain’s ability to process sound can lead to APD.
  • Chronic ear infections: Chronic ear infections, particularly during early childhood, can cause hearing loss and may contribute to the development of APD.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain environmental factors, such as noise pollution, may contribute to the development of APD.

APD is a complex disorder that may have multiple underlying causes. Further research is needed to fully understand its origins.

Diagnosis of auditory processing disorder in autism

There are a few different types of professionals who can diagnose APD, including audiologists, speech pathologists, neurologists, and psychologists. These professionals have specialised training and experience in diagnosing and treating APD.

If you think you or your child might have APD, it’s important to see a qualified professional for evaluation. A comprehensive evaluation can help to determine whether you or your child meets the criteria for a diagnosis of APD and can develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Our online AP test is evaluated by speech pathologists and audiologists with extensive experience in the field. We also have experience in helping autistic people.

Online auditory processing disorder test

People aged 5 and above who meet the eligiblity requirements can enrol in our online auditory processing disorder test.
You need an iPad to complete this test at home.
The test is research validated and results are evaluated by professionals.

Treatment for auditory processing disorder in autism

Traditionally, people with auditory processing disorder (APD) have been treated by compensating for their difficulties. This might involve breaking up instructions or having the student sit at the front of the classroom. These are important strategies, but they don’t improve auditory processing skills and are not a long-term solution.

Most professionals now agree that a three-pronged approach to intervention is most effective. This involves a combination of individualised compensatory strategies, learning environment modifications, and skill building strategies.

auditory processing disorder in adults

Individualised compensatory strategies are tailored to the specific needs of the student. For example, a student who has difficulty following instructions might be given a visual cue or a written copy of the instructions.

Learning environment modifications can be made to the classroom or other learning environment to make it easier for students with APD to learn. For example, the teacher might speak more slowly or use a microphone to amplify their voice.

Skill building strategies help students to improve their auditory processing skills. This might involve exercises in identifying sounds, discriminating between sounds, or following instructions.

A combination of these three approaches can be very effective in helping those with APD to succeed in school or in life.

If you would like more information about APD, you can request a free APD info pack.

Our online programs for auditory processing

Effective programs help process spoken information more easily and efficiently.

Sonic Learning’s team of health and education professionals has been using the proven neuroscience program Fast ForWord since 2004 to help people improve their auditory processing speed, listening comprehension, sound discrimination skills, auditory memory, auditory attention, and sequencing skills.

How to help students with learning disabilities - self monitoring

Here’s the benefits of Fast ForWord:

  • Fast ForWord has been shown to be effective in improving auditory processing skills in children and adults with a variety of learning disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder.
  • Fast ForWord is a computer-based program that is fun and engaging, making it easy for users to stay motivated.
  • Fast ForWord is based on the latest research in neuroscience, and it has been proven to be effective in improving brain function.

If you or your child has autism, Fast ForWord could be the key to helping you improve your ability to process spoken information more easily and efficiently.

Our online programs for social skills

Our program Social Express uses animated interactive training games to teach social skills, communication and problem solving. The Social Express program is a self-guided online course that helps you learn social skills in a fun and low-stress way. The lessons are presented in an animated “Choose Your Own Adventure” format, so you can learn at your own pace. You can access the program from any computer or iPad, and you’ll have the support of health professionals, including speech pathologists and occupational therapists, throughout your journey.

Level 3 - Engage games for social skills

Here are some of the things you’ll learn in the Social Express program:

  • How to make friends
  • How to start and maintain conversations
  • How to deal with difficult social situations
  • How to read body language
  • How to express your feelings in a healthy way

The Social Express program is a great way to improve your social skills and build stronger relationships. If you’re looking for a way to improve your social skills, we encourage you to check out the Social Express program.

Here are some additional details about the program:

  • The program is designed for people of all ages, but it is especially beneficial for people with social anxiety or other social challenges.
  • The program takes about 6 months to complete, but you can work at your own pace.
  • The program is affordable and accessible, and you can start anytime.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Social Express program, find out more here or contact us for a free professional consultation.

How to support those with auditory processing disorder and autism

Parents and loved ones can support individuals with auditory processing disorder in autism by being patient and understanding. It’s important to communicate clearly and avoid speaking too quickly or using complex language, in an enviroment the person feel comfortable in. Providing visual aids when communicating and using assistive technology can also be helpful. Additionally, it’s important to work with professionals, such as speech pathologists and audiologists, to develop a personalised management plan that addresses the individual’s specific needs and challenges. Finally, creating a supportive and understanding environment can go a long way in helping individuals with auditory processing disorder in autism thrive.

If you have any questions about how Sonic Learning can help you or you child with APD, autism, or both, please reach out to us.


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CAPD APD auditory processing disorder Info pack

Download APD info pack

Find out how to best help an adult or a student with APD, how to understand APD test results, and how Fast ForWord can help.

Fast forword

Online auditory processing test

Easy, cost-effective auditory processing test for people aged 5 and above. Research validated and evaluated by speech pathologists and audiologists.

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This free telephone consultation can help to answer any questions you have about our services. At Sonic Learning we are all experienced teachers and health professionals so parents tend to find it very beneficial to be able to discuss their concerns and receive guidance from our team.

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