Kids on the Autism Spectrum and Auditory Processing Disorder

Do loud noises annoy and disturb your 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.


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 HFA 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

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

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