What is auditory processing disorder?

By Gail Belsky

At a glance

  • Auditory processing disorder (APD) makes it hard to know what people are saying.

  • It isn’t related to hearing problems or intelligence.

  • APD can impact people of all ages, and in different ways.

Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a term that refers to problems in how the brain understands speech. The sounds may be loud and clear. But people with APD don’t pick up on the subtle differences between them. 

For example, they may not recognize the difference between cat, that, and bat. The words seventy and seventeen may sound the same. Words can also get scrambled, so the question “how are the chair and couch alike” might sound like “how a cow and hair are like.”

There are four auditory processing skills that people may struggle with:

  • Auditory discrimination: noticing, comparing, and distinguishing between separate sounds
  • Auditory figure-ground discrimination: focusing on the important sounds in a noisy setting
  • Auditory memory: recalling what you’ve heard, either immediately or in the future
  • Auditory sequencing: understanding and recalling the order of sounds and words

APD can have an impact on learning and interacting with others. But it isn’t related to intelligence. People with APD are as smart as anyone else. They just struggle with a specific group of skills. 

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Kelli Johnson, MA is an educational speech-language pathologist, working with students from early childhood through 12th grade.