What is auditory processing and what is an auditory processing disorder?

Auditory processing is a term used to describe what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets the sounds around you. Humans hear when energy that we recognize as sound travels through the ear and is changed into electrical information that can be interpreted by the brain. The "disorder" part of auditory processing disorder means that something is adversely affecting the processing or interpretation of the information or a glitch in the brain’s ability to filter and process sounds and words.

Children with auditory processing disorder don’t have difficulty hearing but rather their brain perceives and processes the sounds incorrectly. This can affect children in many ways including:

  • Sound discrimination: Children mimic the sounds they hear to produce speech by repeating sounds they have heard. A child having difficulty with auditory processing may not speak clearly as they are unable to process parts of speech.
  • Auditory memory: This area makes it difficult for a child to memorize numbers and facts, which in turn affects reading and writing as they are not able to retain information as they read and hear it. Children with auditory memory problems typically take longer to learn their telephone numbers, addresses, have difficulty remembering basic math facts as well as difficulty with verbal instructions.
  • Language processing: This affects a child’s ability to understand what’s being asked of them and to socialize with peers. This leads to confusion when reading and telling stories with lots of characters and events. They have difficulty processing words being spoken and to formulate responses.

How is auditory processing disorder diagnosed?

  • An audiologist who will administer a series of tests in a sound-treated room formally diagnoses auditory processing disorder. Most tests require that a child be at least 7 or 8 years of age because the variability in brain function is so marked in younger children that test interpretation may not be possible.
  • Occupational and speech therapists have various assessment tools available to screen for auditory processing concerns including the test of auditory processing skills (TAPS).

What are the symptoms?

  • Have trouble paying attention to and remembering information presented orally
  • Have problems carrying out multistep directions
  • Have poor listening skills
  • Need more time to process information
  • Have low academic performance
  • Have behavior problems
  • Have language difficulty
  • Have difficulty with reading, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary
  • Performance in classes that don't rely heavily on listening is much better


  • Auditory processing disorder is best treated through a team of professionals, this may include audiologists, speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists
  • Auditory pathways continue to develop up until adolescence; auditory processing disorder is responsive to early intervention.
  • Treatment focuses on three primary areas: changing the learning or communication environment, recruiting higher-order skills to help compensate for the disorder, and remediation of the auditory deficit.
  • Environmental modifications such as classroom acoustics, placement, and seating may help.
  • An audiologist may suggest ways to improve the listening environment, and he or she will be able to monitor any changes in hearing status
  • Exercises to improve language-building skills can increase the ability to learn new words and increase a child's language base.
  • Informal auditory training techniques can be used by teachers and therapists to address specific difficulties.
  • Therapeutic auditory programs administered by trained professionals can further enhance the ability to process auditory information.