Auditory processing

Auditory processing refers to the processing of the sounds that people hear. This is different to their ability to hear sound. Someone may be able to hear sound perfectly but have difficulty processing what they hear so they can understand it.

Auditory processing problems can be related to a history of middle ear disease. They may also be unrelated to a loss of conductive hearing. There can be genetic factors that cause hearing difficulties for several members of the same family and these can sometimes be traced back through past generations.

Auditory processing disorder (APD, also called Central Auditory Processing Disorder - CAPD) has only received wide recognition over the last ten years. A number of adults have now discovered that they have APD, because a child of theirs is now known to have this problem.

Auditory processing problems can result in a variety of learning, social and psychological difficulties. Some people have difficulties in social group settings, especially when it is noisy. Other people encounter learning difficulties at work and school. They may think they are 'dumb' because they find it hard to learn through listening. Others may develop negative attitudes that lead to habitual self-doubt and criticism.

However, some people with APD have exceptional abilities in other areas. They often work very well where tasks require strong visual skills, they are often careful planners, and they are often very good at reading body language.

Auditory processing problems can shape social experiences, especially social experiences in groups of people. People with auditory processing difficulties often cope best in one-to-one conversations in a quiet environment with people they know well. This gives them the best opportunity to hear and process sound and use facial expressions as an additional cue to understanding. In groups, there is more background noise and it is more difficult to hear and process sound. The facial expressions that are useful aids during one-to-one conversation are less effective in groups because there are more faces and people talk at the same time.

People who you know are easier to listen to because what they say and how they say it is more predictable, so people with a hearing problem do not have to listen as hard as they do when they are listening to someone who they don’t know. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that research has shown that there is an association between auditory processing problems and introversion. People with auditory processing problems have more social difficulties and may limit their social contacts - especially in groups and with new people.

Some ethnic groups (Aboriginal, Maori, Pacific Island, Inuit, American Indian) appear to have a higher incidence of auditory processing problems because of the wide spread and persistent childhood incidence of middle ear disease among these groups. Their listening problems (conductive hearing loss and/or auditory processing problems) contribute to educational and social problems in childhood and disadvantage them in a variety of ways as adults. These disadvantages include:

  • difficulties with training, especially training that is based on lectures;
  • difficulties with getting jobs and learning in the workplace;
  • problems with access to mainstream welfare and other services; and
  • communication problems that affect the provision of health care and health outcomes.

People with listening difficulties from minority cultures (such as Aboriginal, Maori and Pacific Island groups) have more trouble participating in mainstream systems. Listening difficulties compound cross-cultural communication difficulties and contribute to poor access to mainstream services and resources.

If the people delivering these services understand the communication needs of indigenous people with listening difficulties the can reduce the extent of indigenous disadvantage in a number of ways. Development assistance processes can be improved and the results of capacity building enhanced when indigenous listening issues are taken into account.

There is more information on this subject on the pages for the Phoenix training programs.

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