What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Picture of Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes
Auditory Processing Disorder

Devon_Barnes_L1.2You may have heard the term “auditory processing disorder” (often called APD) used in relation to children who are struggling to read or who have learning difficulties.

But what exactly is APD? Does it mean that the child has a hearing problem?

LearnFast recorded a video interview with Devon Barnes, speech pathologist and APD specialist and asked her to clarify.

Key points from the interview included:

  • Auditory processing is what we do with what we hear
  • APD is different to hearing loss
  • There are a variety of symptoms 

Watch the video interview:




Prefer to read the video transcript? Here it is.

What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Interviewer: Devon Barnes, welcome.

Devon Barnes: Thanks very much.

Interviewer: We're talking about auditory processing disorder.

Devon Barnes: One of my favourite things to talk about.

Interviewer: Can you give us a very simple definition?

Devon Barnes: Auditory processing in itself refers to what we do with what we hear. So it is separate from actual, just, hearing. We can refer to hearing as hearing acuity. What's the very softest sound that I can hear across a range of frequencies? When you go to an audiologist and have your hearing tested, they're testing your hearing acuity.

Interviewer: So are we talking also about loudness?

Devon Barnes: Absolutely.

Interviewer: So not just frequencies, low and high, but exactly how loud they are.

Devon Barnes: That's exactly right. And what is the softest sound we can hear is our hearing acuity.

Interviewer: Right.

Devon Barnes: Whereas auditory processing is then, what does the brain do with what it hears. Particularly in relation to distinguishing speech.

Interviewer: So you've defined what auditory processing actually is, but we're talking about auditory processing disorder. So what goes wrong?

Devon Barnes: So auditory processing disorder in its simplest form is when something is wrong with what we do with what we hear.

So it could be that we have difficulty perceiving speech when there's background noise, or we have difficulty locating where a sound is coming from.

Or we have difficulty distinguishing between similar-sounding speech sounds. So auditory processing disorder covers a variety of different symptoms, if you like.

Interviewer: So the acuity can actually still be okay?

Devon Barnes: The acuity can be absolutely fine, and, in fact, we only describe this disorder when we know that the person has perfect hearing. Because otherwise we're looking at a hearing loss, and you can still have similar symptoms but they would not be classified as an auditory processing disorder, but those symptoms would relate to having a hearing loss.

Interviewer: Is it a common problem?

Devon Barnes: I think it's more common than acknowledged, particularly in schools, because it's a relatively new disorder that's been described over the last 20 years.

One of the problems is that, even among the academics, there's no common agreement regarding exactly what is auditory processing disorder.

Interviewer: So, a little bit of a mystery then. Is there any particular research coming out at the moment which is helping us with that understanding?

Devon Barnes: There's a great deal of research into this disorder, and I think that is helping to clarify what we actually mean by auditory processing disorder. But it's, as a field, it's really still in its infancy, compared to things like dyslexia, and other, and ADHD, which have been well described for 50, 60, 70 years.

Whereas auditory processing disorder has really only come on our radar in the last 20 years.

Free eBook - What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

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