Auditory Processing Disorder – Struggling to Understand What You Hear

Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is caused by an abnormality in the central auditory nervous system that affects an individual’s ability to understand and remember information presented verbally. Though it is typically first discovered in childhood, it can continue throughout a person’s life.

APD is often confused with hearing loss. However, it affects the hearing system beyond the ear. The ear separates a meaningful message from non-essential background sound and deliver that information with good clarity to the brain where it is processed at an acceptable speed.  APD interferes with that process so messages may be garbled or not processed in a normal time frame.

Below are some of the issues it can cause with the whole hearing process:

  • Auditory discrimination – This refers to noticing and differentiating similar but unique sounds
  • Auditory memory – Remembering what was heard
  • Auditory sequencing – Recalling words and directions in the correct order
  • Auditory figure ground – Discerning and processing a single audio input amid competing stimuli like background noise
  • Auditory cohesion difficulty – This means problems processing when undertaking higher-level listening tasks (e.g., difficulty making inferences from conversation or picking up on tone and inflection)

A standard hearing test won’t typically pick up APD since it is not a condition of hearing loss. In children and adults, it can be misdiagnosed as ADHD because it is easily confused with lack of attention.

Is APD Linked to ADHD?

Opinion is currently divided on whether there is a direct linkage between APD and ADHD. While they share some symptoms and APD is often a comorbidity of ADHD, scientist have not identified a genetic or other causal linkage between the two conditions. While both conditions can cause sensory processing challenges, these can originate in different parts of the brain. The main difference between ADHD and APD is that people with APD will show signficiantly more difficulties with tasks involving sound.

How APD Can Show Up in Adults

In adults, APD can manifest in a number of ways including:

  •  Trouble following multi-step or complex directions
  • Difficulty multitasking in auditory situations (e.g., listening and taking notes)
  • Lack of music appreciation
  • Problems with the ability to localize the source of a sound
  • Trouble following a conversation on the phone
  • Difficulty with rapid or accented speech
  • Difficulty learning a foreign language or technical information where language is novel or unfamiliar
  • Exhibiting a blank stare when spoken to; appearing distracted or unfocused
  • Noticeable delay in responding to conversational questions

Treatments for APD

If you are an adult experiencing symptoms of APD, the first step is to consult an audiologist or speech pathologist for a formal assessment. Follow-on treatment may consist of FM listening systems auditory skill building exercises to help you cope at home, in social settings and the workplace.



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