Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory processing disorder (APD) affects people’s ability to understand auditory information. It is not impaired hearing but the inability of the brain to process sounds in the normal way. It is quite common for people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD or autism to experience auditory processing difficulties.

Potential difficulties

  • Hearing speech clearly against a background of noise;
  • Hearing poor quality sounds (e.g. mobile phone, echoey room);
  • Picking out one voice from others;
  • Identifying where a voice or sound is coming from;
  • Hearing speakers clearly from a distance;
  • Listening selectively to one side or the other;
  • Distinguishing similar sounds e.g. “seventy” and “seventeen”;
  • Following spoken and / or multiple step instructions;
  • Understanding information given verbally;
  • Remembering instructions or messages told verbally;
  • Maintaining attention to speakers and concentrating;
  • Reading, spelling or other academic activity may also be affected.

Points to consider if you have APD

  • Focus on the person speaking to you if you are in a crowded room; 
  • Give them your full attention and concentrate on key words;
  • Watch gestures and facial movements very closely;
  • Position yourself directly in front of the person speaking to you;
  • If you are talking, position yourself so that the person you are talking to is closer to any noise source than you;
  • Aim to arrive early for meetings / training and position yourself close to the chair/speaker/trainer;
  • On the telephone hold the receiver as close to your ear as possible – it should be tight enough so that it covers the ear and keeps out other sounds.

Advice for managers and colleagues of someone with APD

Ask colleagues / visitors to:

  • Get the person’s attention before they start talking and face them when speaking;
  • Speak clearly and a little slowly – avoiding complex grammar and vocabulary;
  • Not cover their mouths when they are speaking;
  • Allow time for processing the information – only rephrase, or explain information in a different way when needed;
  • Emphasise their speech to highlight the key points;
  • Write down information that is extremely important such as directions, phone numbers or schedules;
  • Break it down – presenting information in small, manageable chunks.

Suitable Environment

  • Choose a room with good acoustics for meetings;
  • Rooms with carpets, soft furniture and cushions, heavy curtains and acoustic ceiling tiles are best for your hearing;
  • Choose the quietest room and minimise background noise;
  • Switch off air con, shut doors and windows, ask colleagues to keep noise to a minimum.

Meetings and Training

  • Write down key words and instructions;
  • Use visual clues such as pictures and gestures and utilise mind maps;
  • Make sure you are looking at the individual when speaking to them;
  • Check understanding of tasks – ask questions and encourage them to indicate if anything is not clear;
  • Encourage them to indicate when they have not understood and ask questions;
  • Explain what is going to happen;
  • Be clear in your communication;
  • Provide a break ideally with an opportunity for physical activity;
  • Be supportive and encouraging;
  • Give instructions before not during an activity and when it is quiet;
  • Choose pairs exercises rather than individual work.

Contact us

Contact the Staff Disability Advisor on