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Auditory Processing Disorder Factsheet (for Schools)

What Teachers Should Know

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a hearing problem that affects about 3%–5% of school-aged children.

Kids with this condition, also known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), can't understand what they hear in the same way other kids do. This is because their ears and brain don't fully coordinate. Something interferes with the way the brain recognizes and interprets sounds, especially speech.

Kids with APD often have trouble recognizing differences between sounds in spoken words, even when the sounds are loud and clear enough to be heard. This usually happens when there's background noise, like in a typical classroom.

Kids with APD may need to use a remote microphone system, previously known as a frequency modulation (FM) system. This assistive listening device emphasizes a speaker’s voice over background noise, making the voice clearer so a child can understand it.

These problem areas can affect students with APD:

  • Auditory figure-ground: This is when a child has trouble understanding speech when there is speech babble or ambient noise in the background. Noisy, loosely structured or open-air classrooms can be very frustrating for a child with APD.
  • Auditory closure: This is when a child can't "fill in the gaps" of speech when it is more challenging. This can happen in a quieter situation but is more common when the speaker's voice is too fast or is muffled, making it hard for the child to make sense of the sounds and words.
  • Dichotic listening: This is when a child has trouble understanding competing, meaningful speech that happens at the same time. For example, if a teacher is talking on one side of the child and another student is talking on the other side, the child with APD cannot understand the speech of one or both of the speakers.
  • Temporal processing: This is the timing of a child's processing system, which helps them recognize differences in speech sounds (such as mat versus pat). It also helps them understand pitch and intonation (for example, asking a question instead of giving a command), understand riddles and humor, and make inferences.
  • Binaural interaction: This is the ability to know which side speech or sounds are coming from, and to localize sound in a room. Although less common, this problem happens in children with a history of brain trauma or seizure disorders.

If the auditory deficits aren't identified and managed, many students with APD will face academic challenges.

Students with APD can benefit from working with a speech and language therapist, in addition to getting regular evaluations by audiologists.

What Teachers Can Do

APD is an auditory issue and not a cognitive, speech, or language disorder. Your student may feel embarrassed to let you know they did not understand what you said or directions you gave. Making sure that students with APD write down assignments and helping them stay organized may ease their frustration and boost their self-esteem in the classroom.

It can help to speak at a slightly slower rate with a clear voice. Louder does not always help. (Think Mr. Rogers!)

Teachers also can help students with APD by:

  • using strategic (or preferential) seating so the child is closest to the teacher. This reduces sound and sight distractions and improves access to speech.
  • pre-teaching new or unfamiliar words
  • using visual aids
  • recording lessons for later review

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date Reviewed: 10-02-2021

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