What are the Early Symptoms of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)?

While auditory processing disorder (APD) typically appears in childhood, this disorder can affect people of any age. Ability Central shares how to recognize the early symptoms of APD in children and adults.

By Ability Central

28 November, 2023

A Black toddler boy in a gray sweater and corduroy pants tugs on his ear while his parents teach him to stack blocks

Auditory processing disorder (APD) can turn simple conversation into complete gibberish. This lesser-known central nervous system disorder impacts the signals our ears send to our brains, garbling messages along the way. However, because APD shares symptoms with conditions like autism and ADHD, auditory processing disorder is often misdiagnosed as a learning or speech disability. 

In this article, Ability Central shares how to recognize the symptoms and early signs of auditory processing disorder (APD). We’ll cover questions like:

  • What are the early symptoms of APD in kids?
  • What are the early signs of APD in adults?
  • Is APD a language-based learning disability?
  • What is the difference between a language processing disorder (LPD) and an auditory processing disorder (APD)?
  • When should I see a specialist about APD concerns?
  • Where can I get more information about APD?


What are the early symptoms of auditory processing disorder in kids?

Some kids struggle to decipher what’s being said around them, even if they have normal hearing. They miss important details in conversations, get confused, and can become frustrated when they don’t understand. While some comprehension issues may be linked to learning or speech disabilities, many children are simply learning to live with APD.

Parents and teachers are often the first to notice when a child has auditory processing difficulties. These kids may: 

  • Not pick up common nursery rhymes or songs.
  • Have trouble following directions.
  • Not remember details.
  • Mix up two similar words, like hearing “fly” instead of “why”.
  • Show more difficulty understanding in noisy or distracting places.
  • Frequently ask people to repeat what they’ve said.

APD can affect the way a child speaks as well as their ability to read, write, and spell. Their verbal hesitation may look like a speech disorder or speech impediment until properly diagnosed.

Unfortunately, APD cannot be diagnosed by a checklist of symptoms alone. This is because APD shares symptoms with intellectual or developmental disorders like:

Your family doctor, school nurse, or a speech-language pathologist may try to rule out other conditions, but only a trained audiologist can make an APD diagnosis. To understand an audiologist's diagnostic process, see Auditory Processing Disorder or Hearing Loss? Seven Quick Facts You Should Know.


What are the early signs of APD in adults?

Auditory processing disorder in adults may have been around since childhood, or an adult may develop APD from other conditions like:

Auditory processing disorder symptoms in adults may include:

  • Trouble following multi-step directions.
  • Difficulty multitasking.
  • Trouble spelling, reading, and writing.
  • Difficulty figuring out where a sound is coming from.
  • Trouble with telephone conversations and video calls.
  • Difficulty understanding people with accents.
  • A preference for written communication like text and email.
  • Isolation, loneliness, or avoidance of social events.
  • Difficulty learning a foreign language.

If you’ve noticed APD symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it’s a good idea to have a hearing evaluation. Ability Central maintains a searchable database of nonprofits specializing in processing disorders like APD. Use our Service Locator tool to find a local organization offering support.


Is APD a language-based learning disability?

According to the United States’ special education laws established in 1975, APD is considered a “specific learning disability or SLD. In other words, people with APD qualify for certain rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

According to Walden University, there are seven types of learning disabilities. They are:

  • Auditory processing disorder (APD)
  • Dyslexia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Language processing disorder (LPD)
  • Nonverbal learning disabilities
  • Visual perceptual/visual motor deficit

While APD does interfere with learning and comprehending language, it is not the same as language processing disorder.


What is the difference between a language processing disorder and an auditory processing disorder?

The term “processing disorder” describes a range of communication disorders, but a processing disability is not based on a problem with the ears or hearing. 

Two common processing disorders are language processing disorder (LPD) and auditory processing disorder (APD).

APD is a neurological condition that affects the brain’s ability to process and interpret sounds. It involves the processing of all auditory information rather than language specifically. An audiologist evaluates and diagnoses APD.

On the other hand, LPD is a language-based disorder that affects a person’s ability to use and understand language effectively. A speech-language pathologist evaluates LPD.


When should I see a doctor about APD concerns?

Talk to a healthcare professional if you or your child are having trouble hearing or understanding what you hear. Ability Central has a list of nonprofits specializing in APD that can help you connect with an audiologist in your area.


Where can I get more information about APD?

To learn more about APD, see:

To learn about similar or co-existing conditions, see:

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