Understanding and Managing Auditory Processing Disorders

breakdown of auditory processing disorder

Do you or a loved one struggle to process or understand the sounds you hear? Sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish one noise from another when there is a lot of commotion around you, but when it feels like this all the time, you may be suffering from an auditory processing disorder.

Also known as APD, auditory processing disorder is when the brain has trouble deciphering and processing the different sounds you hear. 

For example, APD might make it hard for you to understand someone you’re talking to in a crowded room. Watching movies or television with APD may feel impossible because you cannot separate the dialogue from any background noise. 

It is important to recognize and diagnose the condition early to prevent auditory processing disorder from impacting your day-to-day life. This can lead you to proper treatment that stops APD symptoms from affecting your quality of life.

What Is Auditory Processing Disorder?

Auditory processing disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects the connection between the brain and the ear. With APD, your brain is not able to decipher sounds properly. 

APD differentiates itself from hearing loss because it does not stop or prevent you from hearing but rather from understanding what you hear. There are no structural issues with the outer, middle, or inner ear when you have APD.

When you have APD, the brain’s auditory processing pathways are either damaged or impaired. With normal hearing, your inner ear receives vibrations from the sounds made around you. These vibrations move along the brain’s processing pathways and are converted into clear and distinct sounds that can be easily recognized. 

With auditory processing disorders, sound vibrations are not transmitted properly. This can result in jumbled, unclear sounds that your brain is not able to decipher clearly.

auditory processing disorder example
In this specific example, the sounds of “reindeer” and “rain gear” might become perceptually similar or muddled due to the disorder. Instead of hearing and understanding the distinct words, a person with auditory processing disorder might perceive them as more similar than they actually are, impacting their comprehension of the intended instruction.


Sounds may be jumbled together or appear lower than they are. Distinct noises can come across as scrambled, and hearing clearly in crowded spaces can be almost impossible.

There are several different types of auditory processing disorders. One specific type of APD is central auditory processing disorder. Also known as CAPD, central auditory processing disorder is defined by deficits of hearing in the central auditory nervous system. 

People with CAPD have trouble recognizing auditory patterns, localizing sounds, and temporal aspects of audition, among other things. Central auditory processing disorder is often found in people who have attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD), language impairments, and certain learning disabilities. 

Causes and Risk Factors of Auditory Processing Disorder

The exact cause of auditory processing disorder is unknown, but many things are considered risk factors for developing APD. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Damage to the auditory nerves
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis
  • Damage at birth
  • Middle ear infections
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Epilepsy
  • Auditory developmental disorders
  • Lead poisoning

While the cause of most APD instances is unknown, some cases of central auditory processing disorder may be linked to genetics. CAPD may run in families, with multiple members all struggling with the condition.

Prenatal and postnatal factors seem to be prominent risk factors in many cases of auditory processing disorder. Many patients with APD were born prematurely or had a low birth weight. There may have even been a complication or traumatic factor present at their time of birth that led to damage of the brain’s auditory pathways.

Other risk factors can include external or environmental concerns, like lead positioning, meningitis, or trauma to the auditory pathways through stroke and other neurological conditions.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder

The primary symptom of auditory processing disorder is difficulty distinguishing sounds. This can manifest in a wide variety of ways, including:

  • Inability to understand speech in crowded or noisy spaces
  • Challenges following directions in chaotic environments
  • Difficulty distinguishing similar sounds from one another
  • Issues with auditory memory and processing speed

These APD symptoms can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, causing people to isolate themselves or avoid social situations. For many patients, this has a severe impact on their quality of life over time.

Diagnosing Auditory Processing Disorder

In order to effectively treat your auditory processing disorder, you will need an official diagnosis. Diagnosing APD involves a series of assessments and evaluations. An audiologist can provide a comprehensive hearing evaluation to assess your level of hearing and your ability to distinguish varying sounds. 

Your audiologist will also perform a physical examination of the ear to rule out any issues with the structure of the outer, middle, and inner ear.

Your audiology team will collaborate with other professionals and specialists to confirm that you are struggling with auditory processing disorder. This includes speech-language pathologists and more.

Management and Treatment of Auditory Processing Disorder

Once you have been diagnosed with auditory processing disorder, you will be able to move forward with treating your condition. 

APD treatment will involve a combination of approaches to help you navigate your condition and improve your quality of life. This includes strategies to manage APD in day-to-day scenarios, such as educational settings, workplaces, and more.

One way to treat APD is through environmental modifications. Creating a quieter environment where there are no overlapping sounds can help you to distinguish what you hear more clearly. 

It is not possible to modify every environment you are in, so it is important that you learn other methods of APD treatment. Auditory training exercises and therapies can improve your processing skills. Assistive listening devices and technologies may also make understanding the sounds you hear easier.

Seek Professional Evaluation from a Hearing Health Care Specialist

If you find it challenging to differentiate between various sounds, particularly in noisy environments, it’s important to consider the possibility of an auditory processing disorder. 

To gain a better understanding of your auditory processing abilities and explore potential solutions, we recommend reaching out to a hearing specialist or audiologist in your local area. A professional evaluation can provide insights into your auditory processing capabilities and guide you toward appropriate measures to address any difficulties you may be experiencing.