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Central Auditory Processing Disorders

Katz, Stecker & Henderson (1992) described central auditory processing as "what we do with what we hear." It is the ability of the brain (i.e., the central nervous system) to process incoming auditory signals. The brain identifies sounds by analyzing their distinguishing physical characteristics frequency (pitch), intensity (loudness), and temporal features (duration). Once the brain has completed its analysis of the physical characteristics of the incoming sound or message, it then constructs an "image" of the signal from these components for comparison with stored "images." If a match occurs, we can then understand what is being said or we can recognize sounds that have important meanings in our lives (sirens, doorbells, crying, etc.).

What are signs and symptoms?

Symptoms of CAPD can range from mild to severe and can take many different forms. Referral should be based on your observations, as well as information reported by the child and the classroom teacher. If a person presents with 2 or more of these characteristics, there is a strong possibility of an auditory processing problem. The more problems that are noted on the checklist, then the greater the likelihood of an auditory processing disorder. Referral to a local audiologist for a complete assessment is recommended.

  • Does not attend to instructions or does not listen to them carefully - it is often necessary to repeat directions
  • Often misunderstands what is said
  • Does not comprehend verbal concepts at age/grade level
  • Slow or delayed response to verbal stimulation
  • Has difficulty with phonics (reading, spelling, writing, speech sound discrimination), or other speech-language or articulation difficulties
  • Difficulty comprehending abstract information
  • Difficulty with verbal (word) math problems
  • Is disorganized and forgetful
  • Has difficulty following conversations
  • Lacks motivation to learn
  • Easily distracted by background sounds
  • Difficulty recalling sequences or following multi-step directions
  • Forgets what is said in a few minutes
  • Difficulty learning a foreign language or challenging vocabulary words

These, as well as other behaviors, may be signs of a central auditory processing disorder (CAPD). It's an often-misunderstood problem because many of the behaviors noted above may also appear in other conditions such as learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even depression. But kids with CAPD can have a coexisting disorder - the most commonly seen is ADHD. Although CAPD is often confused with ADHD, it is possible to have both.

How is it diagnosed?

Audiologists (specialists in hearing) can determine if your child has CAPD. Although speech-language pathologists can get an idea by interacting with your child, only audiologists can perform central auditory processing testing and determine if there really is a problem.

Audiologists (specialists in hearing) can determine if your child has CAPD. Although speech-language pathologists can get an idea by interacting with your child, only audiologists can perform central auditory processing testing and determine if there really is a problem.

Once diagnosed, children with CAPD usually work with a speech therapist. The audiologist will also recommend that your child return for yearly follow-up evaluations.

However, some of the skills a child needs to be evaluated for central auditory processing disorder don't develop until 8 or 9 years old. The auditory center of the brain isn't fully developed at age 7, 8, and 9 - the most common ages audiologists see for the central auditory processing test. These kids' brains just haven't matured enough to accept and process a lot of information. Therefore, many children diagnosed with CAPD can develop better skills with time.

For an in-depth look at how to diagnose and treat CAPD, please visit the resources below.

Additional CAPD Resources

Central Auditory Processing Disorders

Understanding Processing Deficits

Central Auditory Processing Disorder Info at KidsHealth.org