What is an Auditory Processing Disorder?

Simply stated, auditory processing is understanding what we hear and being able to generate a response. Processing problems can be subtle, yet impact at varying levels (words, sentences, paragraphs), in isolation or combination.

Deficits may range from mild to severe; may involve a single behavior or a combination of several behaviors:

  • Frequently says “I don’t know”; “I heard you, but I don’t know what you mean.”; “Huh?” (i.e. input difficulties)
  • Says “I heard it but I can’t remember it or can’t do it.” (i.e. output/organization difficulties)
  • Demonstrates difficulty or inconsistencies in following multi-step or complex directions (e.g. “Pick up your backpack and shut the door.” or “Get the large, green cup on the first shelf.”)
  • Seems easily distracted or has poor hearing in background noise
  • Fatigues easily when spoken to, but shows improved attention/stamina/listening when visuals or hands-on demonstrations are also provided
  • Daydreams, tunes out, appears not to listen
  • May not be able to remember all items in a list, or may remember items out of order
  • Has difficulty thinking and speaking at the same time
  • Has difficulty keeping with the give and take of conversation
  • Says that he/she continually misses pieces of spoken information, the “call-waiting” effect
  • Has disruptive behaviors or seems impulsive/routinely frustrated
  • Frequently asks person to repeat


Audiologists test for central auditory processing deficits under controlled conditions for what happens to auditory information as it moves up the auditory pathway to the brain. Speech-language pathologists test for communicative behavioral indicators such as impact on memory, recall, reasoning and comprehension. Our test battery usually includes tasks such as digit and word recall, ability to recall and follow directions, responding to critical thinking questions, and listening comprehension for paragraphs.


Treatment targets the particular area(s) of weakness revealed in assessment. Processing therapy revolves around a combination of drill and practice to strengthen underdeveloped skills and teaching strategies to compensate for weak skills until the auditory system matures, or the child can use those strategies effectively and independently.

Mary Jane Mullen, M.S.Sp., CCC-SLP contributed to the writing of this page.