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Auditory Processing Disorder - When the Ears and the Brain Disagree

Does your child often misunderstand what you say to them? Do they seem easily distracted or respond slowly or inappropriately to instructions? These could be symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD).

"Auditory processing" simply refers to how well our brains make sense of the words we hear. APD does mean a hearing loss; it means that the brain's ability to sort out others' speech is not working the way a typical person's would. For example, if you were to say "Please raise your hand," someone with APD might hear "Please haze your plan."

This can cause difficulties in a number of areas, such as:

  • Understanding someone speaking fast

  • Understanding speech in a noisy environment

  • Understanding messages or intent (i.e. not realizing that a comment was sarcastic)

  • Being easily distracted/difficulty paying attention

  • Determining where a sound came from

  • Processing speech from two separate directions at once (i.e. teacher is speaking on one side of the child and another student is speaking on the other side)

  • Articulation and language delays

It's difficult to pin down the official prevalence rate because it varies by population, but Speech-Language & Audiology Canada cites a study from 1997 that estimates between 2% and 3% of school-age children are affected by APD.

Doctors currently do not know a specific cause for APD, but factors like early ear infections, head trauma and seizure disorders are thought to contribute to it. Over 50% of individuals with traumatic brain injuries (both children and adults) experience auditory processing difficulties (Bergemalm & Lyxell, 2005; Flood, Dumas, & Haley, 2005). You can read through a list of potential risk factors here.

If someone has been showing signs of APD, a trained Audiologist will perform a series of specialized hearing tests to evaluate their ability to process speech and language. This can include testing how well they can "fill in the gaps" of speech when parts are difficult to hear or determining if the child can hear the difference between words like "mat" and "pat". Noninvasive electrodes are also sometimes used to measure their brain's reactions to sounds. Typically children are not tested for APD until at least age seven. Diagnosis is not always straightforward and can require the analysis of multiple tests and considerations.

While there is no known cure, many children who are diagnosed with APD can improve their ability to process language with various strategies. Accommodations in classroom or other noisy environments can improve the child's ability to listen. Some of these include:

  • an FM system where the teacher wears a tiny microphone that sends their voice to a wireless receiver on the child's ear

  • improving acoustics by adding things like carpeting, curtains, etc.

  • having the child sit near the front

  • implementing visual aids (e.g. writing key words on the board; making eye contact while speaking; using pictures)

Speech therapy can also benefit a child with APD by helping them learn to strengthen their language, articulation, and improve their problem-solving skills and attention capacity.

Have questions about how speech therapy works? Check out our FAQs here or get in contact with a Speech-Language Pathologist to find out how we can help you on the path to communicating freely.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Central Auditory Processing Disorder. ASHA.

Riegner, T. L., & Inverso, D. (Eds.). (2021, February). Auditory Processing Disorder. KidsHealth.,brain%20don't%20fully%20coordinate.

The Canadian Interorganizational Steering Group for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology . (2012, December). Canadian Guidelines on Auditory Processing Disorder in Children and Adults: Assessment and Intervention.


Andalusia Speech Therapy has multiple clinics across Ontario and offers virtual therapy to anywhere in the world. Contact us more for information.

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