Understanding APD

Understanding Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory processing skills develop at different rates in children.

  • Auditory processing capacity is the ability of the children to hold, sequence and process or understand what they have heard.
  • The ability to hold and process language is a maturational process that develops with time.
  • These skills do not necessarily develop at the same rate as general intelligence or expressive language.
  • If a mismatch in development occurs, i.e. if the children’s auditory processing skills are delayed in their development (or language intake processing skills), then a barrier to communication and learning can arise.

A child with delayed development in Auditory Processing Skills may:

  • Experience difficulties learning to read and spell eg. Putting together a word like C-A-T requires a digit span of 3
  • Experience difficulty in learning in areas where language is critical eg reading comprehension, story writing
  • Not know what is happening around him/her or what is expected
  • Become frustrated, angry or difficult to control
  • Appear anxious, overactive or poorly focused
  • Seem disorganised and slow to complete work
  • Suffer from poor self esteem

Delayed development affects many aspects of learning including:

  • Following directions, instructions or explanations
  • Acquiring literacy including reading, spelling, comprehension and written and expressive language
  • Ability to sustain concentration and attend to tasks
  • Appearing disruptive or non compliant if they do not understand.

With early identification and good strategies in place the impact on the child’s learning and behaviour can be reduced.

In every classroom there will be a number of children with delayed skills in auditory processing, typically 20%. They may present in a variety of ways:

  • Appear to daydream
  • Be easily distracted or restless
  • Say “what” a lot, look blank
  • Be unresponsive to verbal instructions
  • May be talkative
  • Can be shy and withdrawn
  • Become frustrated

These children usually have normal hearing BUT have difficulty in being able to listen and understand what people are saying quickly enough to follow what is going on around them. Each child will respond differently to language overload depending on his/her personality and life experiences.



Auditory Processing Disorder Checklist

Although Auditory Processing Disorder originates in the brain, neurological dysfunction is not observable. APD tends to manifest as poor listening skills or an inability to process auditory information and is often accompanied by motor problems.

It is important that parents do not disregard the indicators of APD – the earlier the condition is identified, the more likely that intervention will have a positive effect.

Does your child frequently demonstrate any of the following problems with expressive language?

  • Doesn’t speak fluently or articulate clearly
  • Has poor vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar usage
  • Displays illogical flow of stories or ideas
  • Uses vague words such as ‘thing’, ‘stuff’, ‘whatever’
  • Problems with receptive language?
  • Needs to hear instructions/directions more than once
  • Appears overwhelmed when there is a lot of auditory activity
  • Misinterprets verbal messages
  • Confuses similar words or sounds
  • Seems distracted or unable to sustain attention when receiving verbal messages

Problems with other language tasks?

  • Cannot associate sounds with their written symbols
  • Tends to spell words phonetically (eg. spelling ‘fire’ as ‘fier’)
  • Reads slowly and has poor reading comprehension

Problems with auditory sensitivity?

  • Finds neutral sounds unpleasant or painful
  • Puts volume of music or television unusually high or unusually low

Demonstrate any of the following physical coordination problems?

  • Poor fine motor skills (using scissors, writing neatly, holding a pencil, etc)
  • Poor gross motor skills (catching a ball, skipping, swimming, etc)
  • Inability to perform many simple physical activities that others of the same age are able to do
  • Falls over and loses balance easily or handles objects clumsily

Demonstrate any of these additional problems?

  • Has poor personal organisation (operating within time limits, approaching tasks in a logical order, etc)
  • Becomes frustrated, overwhelmed or irritated more easily than most children
  • Experiences difficulty with concepts that involve time, direction or sequence

What is Auditory Processing?

Simply put it is “what the brain does with what the ear hears”. As sound travels through the ear it causes structures inside the ear to vibrate. These vibrations are then changed into electrical energy. The electrical energy travels through nerves in the central auditory nervous system to the brain, In the central auditory nervous system sound is interpreted, recognised and processed – this is called Central Auditory Processing.

We think of one process in auditory processing but there are actually 9 processes

Auditory Discrimination – the ability to discriminate between words and sound by their duration (long/short), intensity (loud/soft) or frequency (high/low). It is an essential skill for reading, spelling, writing and following direction/.instructions. This skill is tested in noisy environments where it becomes increasingly difficult to discriminate between sound and words that are acoustically similar. eg thin and fin.

Sound Localization –the ability to identify where the acoustic signal is coming from relative to the listener’s position. This determines listening efficiency.

Auditory Attention – the ability to direct one’s attention to the relevant sound specifically speech and hold that attention for an age appropriate period of time.

Auditory Figure Ground – the ability to identify the primary auditory signal from background and/or competing noise.

Auditory Closure – the ability to comprehend the entire word or message when part of it is missing. This skill is used to understand message in noisy listening environments.

Auditory Synthesis – the ability to blend or merge single phonemes into words. This skill is critical for reading success.

Auditory Analysis – the ability to recognise sounds embedded in words. This skill is needed to distinguish markers such as verb tense (eg jumped vs jumps) that maybe masked or lost by background noise.

Auditory Association – the ability to identify the sound and attach meaning to it through labelling. It also involves the association of sound with the language or non language acoustic signal and facilitates the development of auditory memory.

Auditory Memory – is the recall of the acoustic signal after it has been labelled and stored.


If one or more of these processes are faulty Auditory and Central Auditory Processing Disorder occurs. When difficulties occur in the above areas, the fidelity of the acoustic signal is compromised, sounds cannot be accurately identified and they will be misrepresented in the auditory cortex and not processed properly by the brain. Unclear phonological representations lead in turn to impaired phonological awareness which in turn lead to reading disorders/problems.

There are options available to remediate Auditory Processing Disorder – please contact Carol here at KL3 to discuss assessment and options.

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