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Educators & Students with Learning Disabilities: Auditory Processing Disorders

Useful for elementary and secondary administrators, librarians, classroom teachers, and parents and students with Learning Disabilities


Auditory Processing Disorders

APD is a physical hearing impairment, but one which does not show up as a hearing loss on routine screenings or an audiogram. Instead, it affects the hearing system beyond the ear, whose job it is to separate meaningful message from non-essential background sound and deliver that information to the intellectual centers of the brain (the CNS). These students do not hear the subtle differences between the sounds of words.

In classrooms where most instruction is given verbally, these students are at risk of not understandind assignments, goals, and objectives. An APD can interfere directly with speech and language, but can affect all areas of learning, especially reading and spelling.

From LDonline: Living and Working with a CAPD


Signs of Auditory Processing Disorders

An auditory processing disorder can cause difficulty in distinguishing the difference between similar sounds, among other difficulties. Although auditory processing disorder is not named as learning disability under federal law, it can explain why some children may have trouble with learning and performance.

Below is an explanation of the different types of auditory processing. Each category also includes possible difficulties that can occur if there is a weakness in that area, and possible strategies that may help overcome the difficulties. 

Be aware that weakness can occur in one or more category at the same time. 

Auditory Discrimination 

The Skill -- the ability to notice, compare, and distinguish the distinct and separate sounds in words. A skill vital for reading.

Difficulties you observe:

  • Learning to read
  • Distinguishing the difference between similar sounds. Ex: seventy and seventeen
  • Understanding spoken language, following directions, and remembering details
  • Seems to hear but not listen

Auditory Figure-Ground Discrimination

The Skill -- the ability to pick out important sounds from a noisy background

Difficulties you observe:

  • Distinguishing meaningful sounds from background noise
  • Staying focused on auditory information being given. Ex: following verbal directions

Auditory Memory

The Skill -- there are two kinds of auditory memory.

  • Long-term auditory memory is the ability to remember something heard some time ago.
  • Short-term auditory memory is the ability to recall something heard very recently.

Difficulties you observe:

  • Remembering people's names
  • Memorizing telephone numbers
  • Following multi-step directions
  • Recalling stories or songs

Auditory Sequencing

The Skill -- the ability to understand and recall the order of words

Difficulties you observe:

  • Confusing multi-digit numbers, such as 74 and 47
  • Confusing lists and other types of sequences
  • Remembering the correct order of a series of instructions

 From NCLD Auditory Processing Disorders

APD Accommodations & Resources

APD Accommodations & Resources


  • Show rather than explain
  • Supplement with more intact senses (use visual cues, signals, handouts, manipulatives)
  • Reduce or space directions, give cues such as “ready?”
  • Reword or help decipher confusing oral and/or written directions
  • Teach abstract vocabulary, word roots, synonyms/antonyms
  • Vary pitch and tone of voice, alter pace, stress key words
  • Ask specific questions as you teach to find out if they do understand
  • Allow them 5-6 seconds to respond (“think time”)
  • Have the student constantly verbalize concepts, vocabulary words, rules, etc.
  • Avoid asking the child to listen and write at the same time

Excerpted from the LDA of California and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute "Q.U.I.L.T.S." Calendar 2001-2002