Hearing health

What are auditory processing disorders?

Sound Storm character art of Sun the sailor.

Even though there may be nothing wrong with their hearing, some young children have trouble registering—or registering correctly—what people are saying, and remembering what they hear. They may also have trouble learning to read and expressing themselves clearly because they confuse the sounds of different words.

These children have a type of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). For some reason their brains have trouble understanding the information contained in sound and figuring out what direction certain sounds are coming from.

As a result, background noise presents a challenge for children with APDs. They may also have difficulty processing certain phrases or sentences and they may continue to struggle no matter how loudly they are spoken to.

APDs affect around 3-5% of school-age children. Diagnosis can be difficult because it can look like other conditions – and often happens alongside other conditions – like language and reading difficulties and attention deficits.

Unlike other more common hearing problems, APDs can occur infrequently. Children can have no problems processing different sounds one day, and the next day, they may struggle to make sense of the sounds that surround them.

Signs of Auditory Processing Disorders in children

Symptoms of APDs can take many different forms and can range from mild to severe.
If you think your child might have an APD, look out for the following signs:

  • Has difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments.
  • Doesn’t remember details of what he/she has heard.
  • Listening behaviours and performance improves in quieter environments.
  • Frequently asks people to repeat themselves.
  • Finds it hard to express themselves clearly.
  • Finds it hard to follow conversations or instructions.
  • Has trouble with reading, writing, spelling or speech.
  • Appears to be listening but not hearing.
  • Often mistakes two similar-sounding words.
  • Appears to be listening but not hearing.

Since many of these symptoms are similar to those found in other deficits such as ADHD, speech-language delays and learning challenges, figuring out the cause of the behaviour is essential to diagnosing a child’s challenges correctly.

How can you diagnose Auditory Processing Disorders?
Female audiologist diagnosing a young boy who is wearing headphones.