What is an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)?

The ability to process sound is fundamental to speech, hearing, and communications. Our ears are the delivery system to our brain so sounds can be identified appropriately, and meaning be applied to them. Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is when the ear functions and sends the information to our brain, but the brain is unable to distinguish quickly or accurately between sounds and apply meaning to it. In other words, APD is not a problem with hearing, but an issue with listening to and comprehending sounds. People with APD can have difficulty differentiating between words that sound similar, understanding speech when background noise is present, and understanding speech when more than one conversation is going on. This often leads people to think they have a hearing problem, when in actuality, they may hear within normal limits. 

While the exact cause of APD is still unknown, researchers have noted possible links between APD and premature births, head injuries, or recurring ear infections.  Research is also investigating links to autism spectrum disorder, non-verbal learning disabilities, dyslexia, delayed language problems, and other health challenges.

Characteristics of APD

Those who have APD may show characteristics in day-to-day life like:

  • Seem like they have hearing loss even if their hearing is normal
  • Difficulty maintaining attention or show poor listening skills
  • Have difficulty with reading and spelling despite high intelligence
  • Become distracted by background noises
  • Have problems following directions, especially multi-step instructions
  • Ask people to repeat themselves often
  • Trouble understanding speech when there is more than one speaker
  • Feels like sounds are not clear and crisp
  • May respond slowly in normal conversation
  • Tired and confused after a conversation
  • Seem confused by what is expected of them, or
  • Startle easily when there are loud sounds.

Diagnosing APD

At the Hearing & Balance Clinic, our audiologist who is specialized in APD will conduct a series of tests to determine whether you, or your child, have APD.  Because APD is often associated with other disorder, an assessment by another professional may be necessary to make an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan. These hearing tests evaluate:

  • Peripheral auditory system
  • Binaural integration and separation
  • Temporal patterning
  • Auditory closure
  • Auditory figure-ground discrimination
  • Binaural interaction, and
  • Language processing assessment

Treating APD

For APD to be treated, it must first be positively diagnosed. Treatment, management, and support programs may be recommended following a diagnosis. These plans are customized to the individual patient’s needs. Some of these programs may be offered online, an app on an iPad, in our clinic, or a combination of these depending on what is needed. Test results provide critical information that can be used to help patients function at their highest potential at work, school, and other activities. These individualized auditory training plans are designed to:

  • Improve access and interpretation of incoming auditory and verbal information
  • Address deficit areas directly
  • Learn how to maximize the use of auditory information
  • Deficit-specific, formal and informal auditory training
  • Frequency Modulated (FM) Systems
  • Environmental modification
  • Training of compensatory skills
  • Language processing training, and
  • Speech and language therapy.

Why wait? You don't have to live with hearing loss.