Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory Processing is a complex area of Audiology and Speech Pathology. The diagnosis and management of Auditory Processing Disorders continually evolves using the latest research from within Audiology, Speech Pathology, Psychology and Neurology fields.

What is an Auditory Processing Disorder?

Auditory Processing (AP) refers to “what we do with what we hear”. How we detect, decode and process information in a meaningful way.

An Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is an “inability to make optimal use of what we hear”, i.e. there is a delay in development of, or dysfunction along, the central auditory nervous system affecting the child’s ability to process information they hear. This can affect a child in many ways both academically and in their social interaction with their peers.

Standard hearing assessments have significant limitations in determining a child’s functional listening ability in everyday life. Children with auditory processing difficulties present with normal hearing using these standard tests, however once listening conditions become more challenging (e.g. listening to speech in background noise, identifying subtle information in speech required to accurately process information etc.) their true listening abilities are identified.

In fact, some audiologists prefer the term Central Auditory Processing Disorder because of the significant role the central auditory nervous system plays in processing auditory information.

Typical behaviours of a child with an APD

Children with auditory processing difficulties typically present with several of the following:

  • Easily distracted by background noise

  • Struggle to follow conversations or instructions involving more than one task

  • Perform better when shown (visual cues) than told (verbal)

  • Often look confused, unsure of next step

  • Forgetful – unable to retain information

  • Often ask for information to be repeated

  • Better listening one-to-one than in a group

Is APD a definitive diagnosis or does it coexist with other disorders?

An APD may present in isolation, but more often coexists with other developmental disorders. This is not surprising given the central auditory nervous system is interconnected with many other processes within our complex neurological system. It is important to acknowledge that APD is not the result of cognitive, higher-order language or learning difficulties, however, may contribute towards these disorders.

Who should diagnose a child with an Auditory Processing Disorder?

Given the above, the only professional able to diagnose a child with an APD is a Paediatric Audiologist with specialised training in this field. Consideration must be given to the child’s presenting difficulties, medical history, family history and overall development. Children must be at least 6 years of age. Assessment and management often involve a multidisciplinary team.

Early detection and intervention are vital to make optimal use of a child’s critical periods of development (neuroplasticity). Explicit training and exposure to auditory stimuli can make significant improvements in the central auditory nervous system.

What can be done if a child is diagnosed with an APD?

Considering the complexity of the auditory system, management programs should include: Explicit Auditory Training, Environmental Modifications at home and in the classroom and Compensatory Strategies. Management is tailored specifically for the child’s presenting difficulties and results from their assessment.

Little Ears and Little Speech has the unique ability to combine the expertise of audiologists and speech pathologists to develop an individualised programme focusing on your child’s needs.

Auditory Training: explicit and intensive auditory training continues to show the most improvement in developing a child’s auditory processing abilities and strengthening their areas of difficulty. Little Ears & Little Speech specialise in auditory training. See more.

Environmental Modifications: aim to increase clarity and improve access to auditory information. This often includes listening devices (Personal Listening Devices or Classroom Soundfield Systems) to enhance the signal (person talking) and overcome the effects of background noise and distance. Further information available.

Compensatory Strategies: training children in metacognitive skills so that they can recognise difficult listening situations and be proactive using strategies to accommodate and improve their listening. These strategies can also be applied to many other areas of learning and increase a child’s motivation and self-confidence.


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