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Understanding auditory processing disorder

Understanding Auditory Processing Disorder

January 30, 2023

What is Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)? First, we need to understand what auditory processing is.

Hearing is just when your ear collects the sound. Auditory processing is when your brain not only perceives but uses a sound; for example, to make sense of what was heard. It’s “what we do with what we hear”. Auditory processing is difficult and uses a lot more cognitive processing power than just hearing.

Instinctively, you know the difference. You’ve no doubt heard someone say something to you without registering what they were saying. You’ve heard the sound of a doorbell without registering there’s someone at the door. While these example aren’t cases of APD per se, they illustrate that hearing a sound and properly processing a sound are two different things.

Auditory Processing Disorder is a neurological condition in which the brain has difficulty processing sound, even if an individual has excellent hearing and has heard the sound perfectly. This can lead to difficulties with understanding speech (especially in noisy environments), following directions, and discriminating between individual sounds. APD is different from hearing loss – it’s a problem with how we interpret what we hear.

People of all ages can experience APD, although it is more commonly diagnosed in children.

What are the Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder?

Common symptoms of APD include difficulty following verbal instructions, regularly mishearing words or phrases from conversations, and having trouble separating different voices from each other in busy environments. Difficulty concentrating on tasks that demand listening skills as well as weak coordination between hearing and understanding are also common signs of APD.

Someone with APD:

  • struggles with listening
  • has difficulty hearing in noisy environments
  • has trouble following verbal instructions
  • Has difficulty with sound discrimination (distinguishing when sounds are different/the same)
  • struggles at school or academically
  • often responds to questions or statements with ‘huh?’ or ‘what?’
  • is easily distracted and inattentive
  • learns better one-on-one, rather than in a classroom or group setting
  • in some cases, struggles to locate the direction a sound is coming from
Understanding auditory processing disorder woman with hands over ears

Causes of APD

There are a number of factors that may be responsible for APD.

Genetics may be a factor. Genetics may play a role in susceptibility to APD. Studies have shown that if one family member has it, other members of their family may be at an increased risk for developing it as well.

Ear infections/glue ear as a small child cause damage due to inflammation and fluid buildup – this too may be a cause of APD. Even head trauma or illnesses that affect auditory functioning can result in the onset of symptoms associated with APD.

Ultimately, the exact cause of APD is not known, however there are several factors that are prime suspects.

classroom maths online games Auditory Processing Disorder treatment

Testing for APD

Testing for auditory processing disorder is carried out by a qualified audiologist. Your audiologist will ask you questions about your hearing, assess your language skills and ask about family history of hearing loss or speech disorders. To determine whether your listening problems are related to your hearing or your auditory processing, they may also use equipment such as an audiometer to measure your hearing sensitivity. In addition, they may administer special tests designed specifically to evaluate how well you process sound information.

Understanding auditory processing disorder audiologist

The audiologist may administer tests for the following:

  • Auditory figure-ground. This is an important part of auditory processing, as it helps to separate relevant sounds (figure) from those that are irrelevant (ground). Your audiologist will test whether you can focus on an important sound while ignoring an unimportant sound.
  • Auditory closure. This enables us to identify a sound even when we do not hear the entire sound. It’s the ability to “fill in the gaps” in a word or sound, for example when someone is speaking very fast or their voice is muffled.
  • Dichotic listening. This is the ability to separate information coming from both ears simultaneously. For example, if a teacher is speaking on one side of the classroom and another student is speaker on the other side, someone with APD will struggle to understand one or both of the speakers.
  • Temporal processing. This allows us to recognise and interpret brief sounds accurately and quickly. It enables us to tell the differences between sounds such as ‘b’ and ‘p’ as well as understand pitch and intonation – for example, knowing when a sentence is a question or command.

Coping Strategies For Children and Adults

To improve auditory processing, we need to target the cause of APD with a three pronged approach which includes skill building strategies.

Coping strategies – as opposed to treatment methods – for students with APD have focus on compensating for the student’s processing difficulties (e.g. “break up instructions” and “sit at the front of the classroom”). The following coping strategies can be used teachers, parents or health professionals to help those with APD get more out of what they hear.

auditory processing difficulties
Coping strategies include:
  • Use nonverbal cues. Use body language, facial expressions to emphasise meaning.
  • Change what you say. Shorten the sentence, pause between parts of instructions. Slow your rate of speech.
  • Don’t divide their attention. For example, making a person with APD write and listen at the same time created a high cognitive load.
  • Check for understanding. Ask them to repeat the main points.
  • Use visual aids.

For more coping strategies, request a free APD info pack.

Remember, these are compensatory strategies – they are important, but they do not improve auditory processing skills and are not a long-term solution.

Most professionals now agree that a three-pronged approach to APD is most effective, involving a combination of individualised coping strategies, learning environment modifications and treatment methods.

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.

Auditory Processing Disorder Treatment Options

For the greatest improvement, auditory processing skills must be trained directly. The brain must be re-trained to process sound correctly and quickly. The Fast ForWord program is proven to improve auditory processing and change the brain, re-wiring it for listening. This involves re-training the brain to process sound more accurately by training persons with APD in certain listening strategies and techniques.

The research-backed Fast ForWord program includes many specialised online listening exercises, presented in a game format rather than as workbooks. It’s designed for children and adults, and it adapts to your skill level automatically.

Fast ForWord improves

  • auditory processing speed
  • listening comprehension
  • sound discrimination skills
  • auditory memory
  • auditory attention
  • sequencing skills
How to help students with learning disabilities - self monitoring

Auditory Processing Disorder is a complex disorder that affects the way an individual processes and interprets sound. It can have various symptoms and possible causes, but with appropriate testing and therapy, it can be managed. Early detection and intervention can lead to much better outcomes for auditory processing issues. It is important for families to be aware of Auditory Processing Disorder and the help available through professionals and the latest educational technology such as Fast ForWord in order to get their loved ones the support they need.

If you experience APD, feel free to book a free phone consult to discuss online training programs or request our comprehensive APD info pack.

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CAPD APD auditory processing disorder Info pack

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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.

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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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