What is an Auditory Processing Disorder?

In this short (3 minute) video Dr. Martha Burns clearly explains what an Auditory Processing Disorder is. This video is part of a series on auditory processing disorder (APD), click below to get access to all the resources including an APD screening tool.

She Explains

  1. The difference between processing and hearing
  2. The 3 Key Areas that are affected
  3. The impact on language learners


An Auditory Processing Disorder is not a problem with hearing. So we start with a negative definition, the child hears adequately but the brain is not making use of the auditory information effectively.  

EXAMPLE So what happens is if anyone out there who is listening to this has ever learned a foreign language, the first thing that happens to you is you have a trouble “hearing” perceiving some of the sounds and that is what happens with an auditory processing disorder.

A child has trouble perceiving some of the sounds of the language. So a BA may sound like a DA and a DA may sound like GA or the child may be able to hear those differences in a very quiet room but the second it is noisy, the child’s auditory system becomes overwhelmed and they can’t discern what someone is saying very clearly and the way we can tell if the child is an auditory processing disorder when they are young even before we can test adequately for it, is that they tend to say “ha” or “what” a lot. So mum or dad might say “Billy, run upstairs and get  your coat and close the window, looks like it’s going to rain” and the child would go, “ha”.

It’s not that they didn’t hear again, it’s that (1 – processing speed) they couldn’t process it quickly enough or they (2 – working memory) couldn’t hold all the information in the mind or (3- listening accuracy) wasn’t quite clear enough. So it takes them longer to be able to handle information coming in and it’s also harder for them, it’s more difficult.

Now, what turns out, we have learned from this is that in the beginning what may affect in some children who are vulnerable to language problems, it affects the ability to learn the language.

So they are slow to learn to talk or they make speech sound production errors because they are confusing one sound with another sound. But when they go to learn to read in any language that is what we call an alphabetic language, where each of the letters represents sounds. The children have a devil of a time learning which sound goes with which letters.

There is a whole host of new research on that by one researcher whose name is Bates, another researcher whose name is Terry Phelas, another researcher whose name is Nina Crouse, and they are all starting to converge on being able to demonstrate that children with auditory processing disorder, its a  difficultly not with hearing but with handling the sounds of the language then causes all sorts of difficulties learning to read.

Specifically problems with

(a) phonological processing,

specifically problems with (b) auditory working memory, – holding information you hear in your mind

and then also interestingly, the new research showing that children have trouble with

(c) rapid auditory naming, so even naming quickly and easily is difficult and that translates into problem with reading frequency.