Auditory processing disorder (APD) is not a hearing problem in the traditional sense, as most people with the disorder can hear normally. Instead, it refers to the brain’s inability to interpret sound correctly as it is carried through from the ear to be processed.
Understanding auditory processing skills
There are four key areas when it comes to auditory processing depending on what and where you are hearing sounds.
Auditory discrimination involves our ability to recognise and distinguish between different sounds and their meanings. However, it is not always easy, most people will have struggled to determine the difference between similar sounds like 15 and 50 or P and T, at some point.
Auditory figure-ground discrimination
Auditory figure-ground discrimination is the process focusing on the important sounds in a noisy setting. This might be seen as the inability to distinguish between sounds because the background noise is overwhelming.
This is our brain’s ability to recollect what we have heard in both our long and short-term memory. If our auditory memory is impaired, we might find it hard to remember stories or songs, important numbers, people’s names and even directions.
Learning to count, the alphabet, following a list of instructions, they all rely on our auditory sequencing ability. People who struggle with this might hear the sequence correctly but cannot process it in the correct order.
Symptoms of auditory processing disorder
Symptoms of APD are usually noticeable in school-age children, but APD can develop in later life. Given that children tend not to listen at the best of times (we’re parents too), it can be difficult to detect APD or to distinguish it from a hearing problem, which is not a typical symptom of APD.
Children with APD will find it particularly hard to understand speech, concentrate and read in a classroom or other environments with loud background noise. While there could be other reasons behind it, teachers might become aware of a problem when the child’s reading skills fall behind their peers, and they struggle to follow instructions.
Symptoms in adults will typically follow the same pattern of having difficulties in understanding speech or concentrating in environments with loud background noise.
What causes auditory processing disorder?
Research is ongoing into the exact causes of APD, although there are some thoughts around what could trigger it:
- Genetics – some parents recall having similar problems as a child
- Ear infections on a regular basis
- A head injury
- Birth complications
- Links with conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia and other learning difficulties.
Diagnosing auditory processing disorder
To diagnose APD you first need to rule out a hearing impairment. From there, various tests can be done to detect any problems in the following areas:
- Hearing speech with background noise
- Different pitches and sound patterns
- Subtle sound changes
- Speech and language
- Concentration and problem solving
If you suspect you have symptoms of APD, it is advised that you speak to your GP for further testing.
Treatment process for auditory processing disorder
There is no cure for APD, but it can be managed with the following measures:
Working with a hearing specialist or with online programmes, auditory training helps to improve listening and concentration.
Working with a speech therapist might be required if a child or adult needs help forming sounds and deciphering speech.
This might include reducing background noise, talking face-to-face, repeating instructions and keeping sentences short. A child’s teacher can help work with a child with APD.