The term APD (Auditory Processing Disorder) is often used loosely by individuals in many different settings to mean many different things. This label is often incorrectly applied to a wide variety of difficulties and disorders. As a result, there are some who question the existence of APD as a distinct diagnostic entity and others who assume that the term APD is applicable to any child or adult who has difficulty listening or understanding spoken language.

An Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is an auditory deficit that is not the result of other higher-order cognitive, language, or related disorders. Auditory Processing Disorder describes the brain’s inability to recognize and interpret speech sounds in less than optimal conditions. Often these individuals are not recognized as having hearing difficulties because they do not have trouble detecting the presence of sounds or recognizing speech in ideal listening situations. Since they appear to “hear normally”, the difficulties these individuals experience are often presumed to be the result of an attention deficit, a behavior problem, a lack of motivation, or some other cause.

APD is distinctly different from Auditory Comprehension difficulties which refer to difficulty understanding oral language due to language-based difficulties.

APD is estimated to occur in less than 5% of the school-aged population.


Symptoms of APD can range from very mild to severe and may include:

  • difficulty following conversations in noisy environments
  • difficulty paying attention
  • difficulty remembering directions
  • improved performance in quieter settings
  • difficulty learning new vocabulary words
  • difficulty with word discrimination which can impact reading, spelling and writing
  • difficulties with planning and organization
  • difficulty learning foreign languages

Many of these symptoms also appear in other conditions like learning disabilities (dyslexia), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression. It is important to distinguish APD from other disorders that may present with some of the same symptoms.

Individuals with ADHD may be poor listeners and have difficulty understanding or remembering verbal information; however, their actual neural processing of auditory input in the CNS is intact. Instead, it is the attention deficit that is impeding their ability to access or use the auditory information that is coming in.


The diagnosis of APD can only be made by an audiologist following a series of auditory processing testing. The minimum age for participating in this type of testing is 8 or 9 years of age when the auditory system is mature enough to measure some of the skills necessary for determining the diagnosis.

Once diagnosed, children with APD often work with a speech therapist. Treatment of APD is highly individualized and dependent on each individual child’s unique needs.

Strategies to help children with APD

Helpful strategies to alleviate some of the difficulties associated with APD include:

  • Reduce background noise
  • Make sure your child can see your face when you’re speaking to him/her
  • Speak at a slower rate
  • Simplify and shorten directions
  • Have your child repeat back information
  • Assist with organization/planning
  • Provide a quiet place for your child to complete homework
  • Request preferential seating in your child’s classroom