Auditory processing refers to a set of skills related to how the brain recognizes and interprets auditory information. In simple terms, auditory processing is ‘what the brain does with what it hears’. It is different to 'hearing' in that a person can have normal hearing, but have difficulties with auditory processing.
Since the majority of early learning is through listening to spoken language, a weakness in how this information is processed can lead to delayed acquisition of speech, language, literacy and social skills.
Symptoms of an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD
An Auditory Processing Disorder (previously called Central Auditory Processing Disorder) is a complex problem affecting about 5% of school-aged children. It is an 'umbrella' term used to describe a variety of disorders or sub-types that affect the way the brain processes auditory information. The list of general symptoms related to an APD is not necessarily inclusive, nor is any one child with an APD expected to evidence all of them:
Difficulty following oral directions; inconsistent responses to auditory stimuli
Short auditory attention span; fatigues easily during auditory tasks
Poor short-term and long-term memory
Gives the impression of not listening even though looking at the speaker
Difficulty listening in background noise
Difficulty localising sound
Academic difficulties (phonics, reading and/or spelling) and mild speech-language impairments
Disruptive behaviours - distracted, impulsive, frustrated
Frequent requests for verbal repetition or often saying 'huh'
History of middle ear infections
With growing public awareness of auditory processing disorders, some misconceptions about what the disorder really is (and is not) have occurred. The term 'auditory processing disorder' is frequently applied loosely, and often incorrectly to any individual who has trouble with listening and processing spoken language. There are however other underlying causes for these types of difficulties so a comprehensive assessment by the appropriate professional is always recommended.
Assessing your child's auditory processing skills
An APD is one of the more difficult information processing disorders to detect and diagnose. A person with an APD may have a combination of different auditory processing problems or just one type of processing problem.
Treating an Auditory Processing Disorder
Once a diagnosis of an APD is made by an Audiologist, a child will often be referred to a Speech Pathologist for further assessment of their language, literacy and/or social skills. While many children diagnosed with an APD will have difficulties processing language, a language processing disorder can also exist in children who do not have an APD.