What is auditory processing?

Auditory processing is a term used to describe what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets the sounds around you. Humans hear when energy that we recognize as sound travels through the ear and is changed into electrical information that can be interpreted by the brain. The “disorder” part of auditory processing disorder means that something is adversely affecting the processing or interpretation of the information.

Children with APD often do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even though the sounds themselves are loud and clear. For example, the request “Tell me how a chair and a couch are alike” may sound to a child with APD like “Tell me how a couch and a chair are alike.” It can even be understood by the child as “Tell me how a cow and a hair are alike.” These kinds of problems are more likely to occur when a person with APD is in a noisy environment or when he or she is listening to complex information.

APD goes by many other names. Sometimes it is referred to as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD). Other common names are auditory perception problem, auditory comprehension deficit, central auditory dysfunction, central deafness, and so-called “word deafness.”

It is important to note that many people without any kind of auditory processing disorder experience problems with learning and behavior from time to time. However, if a person consistently displays difficulties with these tasks over time, testing for auditory processing disorders by trained professionals should be considered.

There are several different ways the brain processes auditory information. If there is a weakness in a particular kind of auditory processing, it may be observed through specific types of behavior.

Below is an explanation of the different types of auditory processing. Each category also includes possible difficulties that can occur if there is a weakness in that area, and possible strategies that may help overcome the difficulties. Be aware that weakness can occur in one or more category at the same time.

Auditory Discrimination

The Skill — The ability to notice, compare and distinguish the distinct and separate sounds in words. This skill is vital for reading.

Difficulties You Observe

  • Learning to read
  • Distinguishing difference between similar sounds. Example: Seventy and seventeen
  • Understanding spoken language, following directions and remembering details
  • Seems to hear but not listen

Helpful Strategies

  • Practice rhyming, segmenting words into syllables, segmenting compound words, sound-blending and using similar sounding words (like obvious/oblivious)
  • Talk to student at a slow pace
  • Give student one task at a time

Auditory Figure-Ground Discrimination

The Skill — The ability to pick out important sounds from a noisy background.

Difficulties You Observe

  • Distinguishing meaningful sounds from background noise
  • Staying focused on auditory information being given. Example: following verbal directions

Helpful Strategies

  • Provide seating near audio source. Example: front of the class or near a video monitor
  • Eliminate unnecessary background noise during tasks. Example: TV, stereo, outdoor noise

Auditory Memory

The Skill — There are two kinds of auditory memory:
Long-term auditory memory is the ability to remember something heard some time ago
Short-term auditory memory is the ability to recall something heard very recently

Difficulties You Observe

  • Remembering people’s names
  • Memorizing telephone numbers
  • Following multi-step directions
  • Recalling stories or songs

Helpful Strategies

  • Offer written material to accompany lectures
  • Strengthen note-taking skills
  • Provide visual cues to differentiate information-for example, using different colored chalks to emphasize the most important material on the board or hand signals when moving on to another topic

Auditory Sequencing

The Skill — The ability to understand and recall the order of words

Difficulties You Observe

  • Confusing multi-digit numbers, such as 74 and 47
  • Confusing lists and other types of sequences
  • Remembering the correct order of a series of instructions

Helpful Strategies

  • Provide written materials to accompany verbal instruction
  • Use images or gestures to reinforce understanding and memory of a sequence or list

What you should know about auditory processing disorders

Auditory processing disorders are often referred to as central auditory processing disorders (CAPD)

  • Auditory processing disorders can occur without any kind of hearing loss
  • Auditory processing disorders affect how the brain perceives and processes what the ear hears
  • Like all learning disabilities, auditory processing disorders can be a lifelong challenge
  • Many of the difficulties that are experienced by people with auditory processing disorders are also common to people with attention deficit disorders
  • Auditory processing disorders may run in families
  • Auditory processing disorders can affect a person’s ability to interact socially
  • There are different types of auditory processing disorders, each affecting different aspects of auditory information processing

Auditory Processing Disorders at Different Ages

Many people experience problems with learning and behavior from time to time, but if a person consistently displays difficulties with these tasks over time, testing for auditory processing disorders by trained professionals should be considered.

Early Childhood

Common difficulties include:

  • Learning to speak
  • Understanding spoken language
  • Separating meaningful sounds from background noise
  • Remembering stories or songs
  • Staying focused on a person’s voice
  • Unusual sensitivity to noise
  • Confusing similar sounding words
  • Difficulty in understanding speech

Accommodation and modification strategies

  • Keep directions simple – only tell your child one step at a time
  • Give directions both orally and visually – show your child what you mean
  • Speak slowly – especially when your child is hearing information for the first time
  • Maintain eye contact while speaking
  • Limit background noise when teaching new information or giving directions
  • Provide specific opportunities to practice skills that build vocabulary, rhyming, segmenting and blending words

School-Age Children

Common difficulties include:

  • Remembering and following spoken directions
  • Remembering people’s names
  • Sounding out new words
  • Seeming to ignore others when engrossed in a non-speaking activity
  • Understanding people who speak quickly
  • Finding the right words to use when talking

Accommodation and modification strategies

  • Combine oral teaching with visual aids
  • Ask that teachers and others make it physically, visually or audibly clear when they are about to begin something important so that nothing is missed
  • Have a note-taking buddy who will make sure that information was understood
  • Request seating close to teacher
  • Have child repeat back information or instructions to build comprehension skills and make sure messages are understood correctly

Teenagers and Adults

Common difficulties include:

  • Talks louder than necessary
  • Remembering a list or sequence
  • Often needs words or sentences repeated
  • Poor ability to memorize information learned by listening
  • Interprets words too literally
  • Hearing clearly in noisy environments

Accommodation and modification strategies

  • Find or request a quiet work space away from others
  • Request written material when you attend oral presentations
  • Ask for directions to be given one at a time, as you go through each step
  • Take notes or use a tape recorder when getting any new information, even little things
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