What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Auditory processing is defined as what the brain does with what it hears. Although the ear is responsible for picking up sound and directing it towards our auditory system, it is auditory processing that allows us to differentiate and interpret these signals. Auditory processing is responsible for:

  • Sound localization and lateralization
  • Auditory discrimination including auditory decoding with a degraded signal
  • Auditory pattern recognition
  • Temporal aspects of audition
  • Auditory performance in the presence of background noise or a competing signal

Auditory Processing Weaknesses and Deficits

Auditory processing disorder (APD) refers to a deficiency in one or more of the aforementioned auditory behaviors. A child or individual suffering from an auditory processing disorder may be unable to attend to, discriminate, recognize or understand auditory information to a point where making sense out of what is heard becomes difficult. Auditory processing disorder does not describe a single deficit, but rather encompasses a variety of functions. A child or individual with APD may have normal hearing but may still be unable to adequately use and understand auditory information.

Children with auditory processing weaknesses hear normally as they can usually detect pure tones delivered one by one in quiet environments such as a sound-treated room. However, the ability to detect the presence of sound is just one part of auditory processing. Therefore, most children with auditory processing weaknesses do not have a loss of hearing sensitivity but instead a hearing problem in the sense of being unable to process auditory information normally. Left unidentified and unmanaged in the early stages of development, auditory processing weaknesses, delays or deficits can lead to speech and language delays as well as academic problems and social issues.

A child can exhibit auditory processing weaknesses in areas including auditory decoding skills, auditory closure, auditory figure ground skills, auditory memory skills and auditory comprehension.