About auditory processing disorder

Children with auditory processing disorder (APD) have normal hearing, but difficulty recognising and interpreting the sounds they hear.

These difficulties make it hard for children to work out what a sound is, where the sound came from and when the sound happened. And this means it’s hard for children to listen properly when there’s background noise or the sound is muffled.

APD is a problem with the way a child’s ears and brain work together to understand sound. It isn’t a hearing impairment and it isn’t an intellectual disorder. APD can also look like a language problem, a learning difficulty or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but it isn’t these things either.

Because APD looks like other problems and often happens with other disorders like language and reading difficulties, it can be hard to diagnose.

APD is also referred to as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD).

APD affects around 3-5% of school-age children.

Signs and symptoms of auditory processing disorder

If a child has APD, you might notice that he has difficulties with:

  • listening and hearing, especially if there’s a lot of background noise and distractions
  • following instructions
  • staying focused – for example, he might be easily distracted
  • remembering spoken instructions
  • telling the difference between letters that sound similar, like ‘k’ and ‘g’, or ‘t’ and ‘d’
  • remembering to say the beginning or end sounds of words when he’s reading.

This means that APD can appear as problems with learning, listening and communication, as well as reading and writing.

Causes of auditory processing disorder

We don’t know what causes APD. Some experts think ear infections and head trauma might increase a child’s risk of developing APD.

Diagnosis of auditory processing disorder

APD is usually diagnosed once children start school. Diagnosis is important so that your child can get support for classroom learning.

It’s a good idea to see your GP or paediatrician for advice if you’ve noticed any of the signs or symptoms of APD, or if your child’s teacher has noticed your child is having trouble listening at school. The GP or paediatrician might test your child’s hearing or refer her to an audiologist.

If the audiologist thinks the problem might be APD, the audiologist will do an auditory processing assessment. This includes diagnostic hearing tests for hearing loss and auditory processing tests.

An auditory processing test involves several short tests like listening to and repeating words and sounds back to the audiologist. The audiologist uses equipment to change the words and sounds so they’re harder to understand – for example, the equipment might add background noise or play words or sounds at the same time.

You can ask your audiologist for more information about the tests before your child has them.

Audiologists diagnose APD in consultation with a range of professionals including speech pathologistspsychologists, and teachers.

Support and treatment

APD can’t be cured, but with the right intervention and support, your child can improve his ability to listen in the classroom.

Your audiologist might suggest strategies your child can use to improve her listening in noisy environments. The audiologist might also recommend that your child uses a personal FM or sound amplification system. This will help your child hear the teacher’s voice more clearly, even when there’s lots of background noise.

Your child might be referred to a speech pathologist to work on his language skills. Your child might also see a special education teacher for extra help at school, especially with reading and writing.

Treatment for APD is tailored to each child. It’s a good idea to talk with your audiologist or speech pathologist about what sort of treatment will work best for your child.