Listening and Auditory Processing Difficulties

The experience

Teenagers with Auditory processing difficulties generally have perfect hearing, thus it is not a hearing impairment rather it is a difficulty in processing what is heard.

A student with APD may not be able to process what is said to them. They will often appear to have heard what has been said as they can sometimes even repeat back  exactly what has been said but they have not processed the message therefore they have not attached any meaning to the sentence, they have not processed it  – they know the words, but the words are meaningless.

If a student is not processing the message, repeating the message will be of no use, neither will speaking louder!

Auditory Processing difficulties can fluctuate from day to day. This can be very frustrating for parents, teachers and the person themselves as on one day they appear to be processing well while on other days they may not be able to process anything at all.

“I now find it much easier to organise my thoughts and find the words to express my ideas fluently… before the course I often wasted a lot of time trying to find the words to express my ideas when studying and doing school exams” LN – age 17

Auditory Processing explained

Auditory processing is what we do with sound information, that is:

“What we do with what we hear”

Sound waves travel through the air and are collected by our outer ear (Pina). The sound then travels down the ear canal, causing the ear drum to vibrate, in turn causing the bones of the middle ear to vibrate. The sound is then picked up by the inner ear (Cochlea). The sound stimulates nerve cells in the cochlear system, which covert the sound information into electro chemical signals.

These signals pass along nerves and travel to the auditory cortex where the sound is consciously heard. This engages the cortex and all functions of the brain which processes the representative sound information – thus listening occurs.

Many brain systems and subsystems are involved in the processing of this information – including those involved in attention, memory, and higher order cognitive functions.

As such auditory processing does not describe hearing. Many teenagers with Auditory Processing Difficulties have perfect hearing (as tested by an audiologist / hearing test) but there is a deficit in the processing of the message that has been heard.


Many students with Auditory Processing Difficulties have difficulty following directions (especially multi part directions), difficulty expressing themselves, difficulty with comprehension (including reading comprehension). Difficulty in social situations (as it is often very hard for these teenagers to keep up with a conversation or understand what others are saying).

Teenagers can experience Auditory Processing Difficulties in a number of ways.
The written word is an extension of language information – it is the visual representation of auditory communication. Thus auditory processing difficulties can extend to reading and writing (as a result Auditory processing contributes to Dyslexia).

Other students are unable to filter out extraneous, non-important information. When these students are in a classroom situation they are unable to focus on what a teacher is saying as their attention is constantly being dragged away from the teacher’s voice towards other unimportant sounds (chair scraping on the floor, classmate rooting in their bag, coughing etc). Their system is equally aroused by unimportant information as it is by vital information – thus they often miss out on a lot of what teacher is saying and are unable to follow the class as they very quickly lose track of what is going on as the class progresses.

Some students appear to be slow in processing what has been said to them. These students are experiencing a delay in auditory processing. Quite simply the message is taking longer to get to its destination (for processing) than it does for their classmates. Often these students will automatically say “what?” after someone has spoken to them, and just as you are about to repeat what you said to them the teenager answers the question. This shows that the message just took a little longer than typical to be processed. This difficulty is often due left or mixed ear dominance. For effective, efficient and speedy auditory processing to take place it is ideal that the majority of people are right ear dominant.

Auditory processing difficulties can affect all areas of a student’s life. Alleviating these difficulties, allows these students to reach their potential, flourish and develop into independent, capable and happy adults.