Auditory Processing Difficulties & Disorders
People who have normal hearing actually hear far more than they perceive. Where hearing is a function of the ear, auditory processing – listening – is a function of the brain. Auditory processing describes the way the brain assigns significance and meaning to the sounds in the environment. Effective auditory processing involves a relatively high speed of information transfer. It also requires a good attention span, a well-functioning memory, and sensitivity to the many subtleties of sound. When parts of this complex system break down or don’t operate efficiently, listening is compromised. All the ensuing problems are collectively known as Auditory Processing Disorders (APD).
The Victorian Department of Education, Employment and Training defines auditory processing as the ability to ‘hold, sequence and process’ auditory information. Auditory processing is the system that transfers and decodes what we hear into what we understand. It is, in effect, the wiring between hearing and understanding. The ear and the brain communicate with each other, not unlike two people having a conversation on a mobile phone. If there is any kind of interference on the line, the reception of the given message will be compromised. The line may cut in and out, there may be a small time delay, or there may be a lot of background noise. Where one type of interference may cause distraction, another may cause frustration, misunderstanding or confusion.
This is precisely what happens with auditory processing. Depending on the type of processing dysfunction, different problems will emerge. Ideally, auditory processing should enable people to decode auditory signals as they are delivered, integrate auditory information with other environmental cues, organise this in a meaningful way, screen incoming auditory information to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and lastly to associate sounds with written language.
It is impossible to isolate the components of this system or to consider that any sensory system only affects its specific domain. How we make use of auditory information is a complex and interdependent network of hearing, listening, and the brain’s processing of information to produce appropriate responses. Without this ability, relationships, learning and development are all challenged.