Auditory Processing Disorder can be good news

“What What What” or “Huh?” … Can’t Listen

An Auditory Processing Disorder diagnosis = Poor Listening. It can be good news because it can explain a wide range of other cognitive issues. Weak auditory processing is a common cause of learning difficulties and of these symptoms:

  • dyslexia
  • distractibility
  • weak auditory attention
  • concentration and comprehension,
  • daydreaming
  • weak balance and motor
  • overloading
  • frustration
  • immaturity
  • difficulty coping with background noise.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) often confused with other conditions

APD is often confused with an attention deficit disorder. It can also cause withdrawal or disruptive behaviour as well as a diminished motivation to learn. Because APD can cause so many other issues, its diagnosis can open the door to positive change.

It is easy to become dismayed when your child’s evaluation lists numerous issues. A sensory assessment can cover many different skills – each tested one at a time: hearing, listening, processing speed, working memory, motor, vision, impulsivity, focus, sequencing, reading, etc.

APD undermines much more than listening

Auditory processing is the skill that determines how well you listen and is the primary source of all early learning and allows you to master reading and communication. The English language uses phonemes, tiny syllables that require lightning fast processing to be heard accurately. Auditory processing delays are the most common source of language, learning and reading problems.

Listening with an auditory processing disorder can be like listening to sound under water. The words are muddy at best and impossible to understand at worst. Those with APD struggle to build working memory because they cannot capture clear information to retain and manipulate. Without practice, working memory skills cannot develop as they should.


Low attention and distractibility are common in children with auditory processing disorder. This is because APD undermines the opportunity to practice paying attention. Listening with APD is exhausting whatever your endowment of intelligence! You work so hard listening, you never experience what it’s like to sit in class and focus comfortably. You struggle to filter out distractions or to attend for long periods because you are completely occupied trying to listen.

Voice and communication

Listening occupies a crucial role in language processing. How well you listen can cause a wide range of reading, learning and social challenges. APD often remains undetected or undiagnosed in those with reading or learning difficulties. Language is assembled in the ear and reading is an important language skill. If a child is unable to break a word down into its component sounds, that word will be difficult to recognise on a page. Phonemic awareness is an essential foundation for reading. Those with APD almost always have delayed phonemic awareness.

Those with APD tend to have smaller vocabularies because they are not able to hear words clearly enough to use them. Grammar and language syntax can be limited because of a reduced ability to recognise different tenses and sentence structures. This requires listening to be automatic, freeing up capacity for this higher-level work.

Communication is affected because those with APD struggle to decode the messages delivered with change in tone (pitch) – undermining the ability to distinguish humour from teasing or a warning from anger. It also undermines the ability to express feelings, which remain locked inside.

Fix one difficulty and help many

Many believe that each skill deficit represents a separate problem, which has to be solved separately. However, in the case of APD, many of these apparently disparate symptoms are in fact related because of the strong interconnections between the underlying sensory systems. I observe that most bright children with weak auditory processing discreetly struggle but eventually tend to demonstrate learning difficulties. They then often become discouraged or bored and ultimately disengaged (withdraw or disrupt).

A diagnosis of auditory processing disorder is not a life sentence. The underlying auditory skills can be rebuilt with a suitable program. Once we normalise auditory processing, many of these other symptoms will tend to gradually resolve over time. Resolve auditory processing and normal cognitive, language and learning development can resume.

If you would like to take the next step with Harry Armytage, complete the listening scorecard here

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash