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Aspergers Children and Auditory Processing Disorder

Do loud noises annoy and disturb your Aspergers (high functioning autistic) child? If so, she or he may have APD.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is an umbrella term for a variety of disorders that affect the way the brain processes auditory information. It is not a sensory or inner ear hearing impairment. Kids with APD usually have normal peripheral hearing ability. However, they cannot process the information they hear in the same way as others do, which leads to difficulties in recognizing and interpreting sounds, especially the sounds composing speech.

APD can affect both kids and grown-ups. Approximately 2-3% of kids and 17-20% of grown-ups have this disorder. Males are two times more likely to be affected by the disorder than females.

APD can be genetic or acquired. It may result from ear infections, head injuries or developmental delays that cause central nervous system difficulties that affect processing of auditory information. This can include problems with:
  • auditory discrimination
  • auditory pattern recognition
  • auditory performance in competing acoustic signals (including dichotic listening)
  • auditory performance with degraded acoustic signals
  • sound localization and lateralization
  • temporal aspects of audition, including temporal integration, temporal discrimination (e.g., temporal gap detection), temporal ordering, and temporal masking

APD results from impaired neural function and is characterized by poor recognition, discrimination, separation, grouping, localization, or ordering of speech sounds. It does not solely result from a deficit in general attention, language or other cognitive processes.

As APD is one of the more difficult information processing disorders to detect and diagnose, it may sometimes be misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and other forms of Autism, but it may also be a comorbid aspect of those conditions if it is considered a significant part of the overall diagnostic picture. APD shares common symptoms in areas of overlap such that professionals unfamiliar with APD may misdiagnose it as a condition they are aware of.

Children with APD intermittently experience an inability to process verbal information. When children with APD have a processing failure; they do not process what is being said to them.

There are also many other hidden implications, which are not always apparent even to the child with the disability. For example, because children with APD are used to guessing to fill in the processing gaps, they may not even be aware that they have misunderstood something.


Aspergers and HFA kids with Auditory Processing Disorder often:
  • have a preference for written communication (e.g. text chat)
  • dislike locations with background noise (e.g., a school lunch room)
  • have behavior problems
  • have sensitivities to loud noises
  • have difficulty with reading, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary
  • have language difficulties (e.g., they confuse syllable sequences and have problems developing vocabulary and understanding language)
  • have low academic performance
  • have poor listening skills
  • have problems carrying out multi-step directions given orally
  • need to hear only one direction at a time
  • have trouble paying attention to and remembering information presented orally
  • may cope better with visually acquired information
  • having trouble paying attention and remembering information when information is simultaneously presented in multiple modalities (i.e., problems with multi-tasking)
  • need more time to process information
  • needing others to speak slowly

APD can manifest as problems determining the direction of sounds, difficulty perceiving differences between speech sounds and the sequencing of these sounds into meaningful words, confusing similar sounds such as "hat" with "bat", "there" with "where", etc. Fewer words may be perceived than were actually said, as there can be problems detecting the gaps between words, creating the sense that someone is speaking unfamiliar or nonsense words.

Those suffering from APD may have problems relating what has been said with its meaning, despite obvious recognition that a word has been said, as well as repetition of the word. Background noise, such as the sound of a radio, television or a noisy classroom can make it difficult to impossible to understand speech, depending on the severity of the auditory processing disorder. Using a cell phone can be problematic for a child with auditory processing disorder, in comparison with someone with normal auditory processing, due to low quality audio, poor signal, intermittent sounds and the chopping of words. Many Aspergers kids who have auditory processing disorder subconsciously develop visual coping strategies (e.g., lip reading, reading body language and eye contact) to compensate for their auditory deficit, and these coping strategies are not available when using a cell phone

Those children who have APD tend to be quiet or shy – and even withdrawn from mainstream society due to their communication problems, and the lack of understanding of these problems by their peers.

One who fails to process any part of the communication of others may be unable to comprehend what is being communicated. This has some obvious social and educational implication, which can cause a lack of understanding from others. In grown-ups, this can lead to persistent interpersonal relationship problems.


Recent research has shown that practice with basic auditory processing tasks (i.e., auditory training) may improve performance on auditory processing measures and phonemic awareness measures. These auditory training benefits have also been recorded at the physiological level. Many of these tasks are incorporated into computer-based auditory training programs such as Earobics and Fast ForWord, which is adaptive software available at home and in clinics worldwide.

APD treatments include:
  • Auditory Integration Training typically involves a youngster attending two 30-minute sessions per day for ten days
  • Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes (particularly, the Visualizing and Verbalizing program)
  • Neuro-Sensory Educational Therapy
  • Physical activities (e.g., occupational therapy)
  • Sound Field Amplification

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook


Anonymous said...

Ashley Henderson Gonzales My son has learned to adapt somewhat to loud noises. However I do not vacuum nearly as much, I give warning when using the blender, and I use a count down system at a basketball game when the buzzer is getting ready to go off.
22 hours ago · Like
Emma Louise Rosser My lad hates loud noises, finds it incredibly hard to concentrate if theres so much as a ticking clock in the room.
22 hours ago · Like
Vanessa Willis Or Sensory Processing Disorder
22 hours ago · Like
Dee James
My daughter is 4 years and she spends most of her time covering up her ears, if a ambulance goes past with it's sirens on she will cover her ears and bolt down to the floor into a ball, even from a baby normal noises would really startle he...See More
22 hours ago · Like
Stephanie Birmingham Walls
Yes, my son has this as well as many of the other Sensory Processing Disorders. Slowly but surely he is learning to adapt and we are learning to help him 'prepare' for them. I do the same as Ashley...I do not vacuum nearly as much as I should however we hit a major milestone of him WANTING to vacuum :)) we warn warn and warn some more before going anywhere with our son...lights, sounds, smells, people...if we don't it's like asking for instant meltdown. Seems to help alot!
22 hours ago · Like
CareeAn Keaton My 9 year old son actually has his own set of noise blocking headphones here at home. There are days he wil walk around with them on because the day is just too loud. He also has a set at school right by the door for fire drills or loud assemblies. If we are out and about and something is too loud (music, motorcycles, fire whistle) he will grab my hands to put over his ears.
21 hours ago · Like · 1 person
Amanda Rose Daily-Daub We also use noise-cancelling headphones. Sammy uses them at school and has another set at home.
21 hours ago · Like
Tracy Alder-Ashwin What type of headphones do you use please? Want to buy some for my son as he has always found loud noises painful. Not sure about the noise cancelling ones as I've heard they can be annoying having to listen to the white noise sound all the time.
17 hours ago · Like

Anonymous said...

Hideki Moriwaki Some of my students have the symptom like this. This aritcle was very helpful for me.
3 hours ago · Like

Anonymous said...

Hi. I am a 50 yo female. Lately I have been experiencing episodes of non-comprehension when people are talking. It's a strange phenomenon to feel; it's like the person is suddenly speaking a foreign language. I just pretend that I know what they were saying but I don't have any comprehension of their gibberish. Am I catching Aspergers?

Anonymous said...

Aspergers is not something you catch, it is a form of autism. My guess is you may have suffered a stroke or hearing loss

Workbench said...

Actually, Auditory Processing Disorder can intensify as you grow older or develop in people as they age. I know just what she's talking about. Often it's either just a jumble as if they were speaking another language OR it's as if there is a time delay and you watch their lips form words, but the sounds don't match up correctly. I've found lip reading helps more and more.

Workbench said...

It sounds as if she has Auditory Processing Disorder. Myself and various family members all have issues with APD. Sometimes it's as if they are speaking garbled syllables, mumbling or there is a time delay between hearing the sound and understanding what was said. Lip reading helps. APD can intensify as one gets older or occur in those who have previously had no issues as they get older for various reasons.

Anonymous said...

Could you please tell me which brand/type of noise cancelling headphones you use. I have a 7 year old with APD, and I am looking for headphones.
I would *really* appreciate any input.


Dawn Safarik said...

My 20-year-old son with Aspergers used to be afraid of loud noises, balloons popping, flushing toilets in public restrooms, and the fire alarm going off at school. Now his favorite things are tornado sirens and vacuums. I'm not sure if he has the APD or not but he can still be sensitive to sound and definitely light. So there's a possibility that things will change for them as they age.

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