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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Patiño

Auditory Processing Disorder- When you Hear, yet Don't Understand

Hello everyone, Natasha here and ready to hopefully help some families struggling to find answers.

Auditory Processing Disorder (ADP) is something that I have seen that is underdiagnosed yet can be very life changing, especially if caught early. To be very clear before we get started, I am not an expert with this topic, I do not have tools to diagnose this, and I do not treat this. What often happens is that a family comes in with other presenting issues, when in reality this may the underlying problem.


My first experience with ADP was about 15 years ago, when I worked in intensive in-home services at the community mental health center. In this program, I only had five clients at a time, because they were at-risk youth that were close to getting expelled from school or kicked out of the home. In short, the most difficult cases. I received a referral for a young 6th grader at that time, female, whose family was from Mexico. The paperwork said she was failing her classes, was disruptive in school, and had explosive outbursts at home. These were the ‘presenting problems’ that got her connected with me.

I was surprised when I got to meet her, and she did not seem like the same child from the paperwork. She was very sweet, eager to please, and really seemed to try to do the work. What I quickly noticed was that she needed time to think and process what I would ask and would almost shut down if there were too many things asked. There was this odd delay. It’s like she was still processing the first sentence, and I was already on my fourth sentence. I also realized that she was trying hard in school but would feel flooded and could not keep up. After an exhausting day of trying to keep up in school, anything small her parents asked of her to do would result in her yelling and having her ‘anger outburst.’

After some time, we finally got her tested for any learning disabilities. They found that she did have ADP and it was as if everything just clicked for the family. Things now made sense…. the delay in her responses, not appearing to be listening, difficulty having a conversation. We educated her parents on this and gave them tools to support the client. We also worked with her school, and they did an amazing job with making accommodations. What

was the result of all this? Her grades went up, she was smiling, getting along really well with her parents, and making friends. I closed her case shortly after.


According to the Child Mind Institute (, “some young children seem to have problems deciphering or decoding the sounds that make up language. Even though they have normal hearing, they miss a lot of details of what’s being said around them, especially in noisy or distracting environments.” This can affect them academically, socially, and even lower their self-esteem since they don’t understand why they have such a hard time. This can occur both in children and adults.


According to Nationwide Children’s (, these are the symptoms of ADP to look out for:

  • Great difficulty understanding words or speech, especially with background noise

  • Significant difficulty following multi-step directions verbally

  • Easily distracted by loud, spontaneous (sudden) sounds

  • Great difficulty attending long lectures

  • Hard time summarizing what was just presented to them verbally

  • Difficulty reading, spelling, and/or writing compared to their peers (perform consistently below grade level)

  • Trouble with abstract thoughts or ideas

  • Delay in understanding jokes, often misunderstanding them

In my experience, kids with ADP seem to almost get lost when trying to listen. There is a delay in their response, and they seem very hesitant to speak up. One adult client recently told me, “It’s like my mind is registering what you’re saying, but it’s so slow that I get lost if you keep talking.” Others that do not understand what is going on, could label these behaviors as defiant, disrespectful, and not caring.


If you or your child think you may have ADP, testing would be the first thing to do. One place that I have heard good things about in the upstate, is Clarity Upstate ( They do many evaluations and have been a great resource for many of our clients, both adults and children.

If the evaluation shows that your child does have ADP, make sure to advocate for your child to have accommodations at school so they can thrive in that environment. ADP is recognized as a “specific learning disability” under the Individuals and Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), so the student automatically qualifies for a good number of accommodations and services IF they have been diagnosed by an audiologist.


If you suspect your child/partner may be struggling with ADP, here are some things you can do to help until they get the resources they need. Two simple things I recommend to are:

1.) Talk less.

a. For example, instead of having a whole speech and list of things for your child to do after school, do a maximum of three: For example, say “go upstairs, do laundry, and take out trash.” That’s it, so straight to the point and don’t add all the extra stuff. This is a lot better versus “don’t forget that when you get upstairs, that you need to get all your stuff and start laundry……” You already lost them. They go up to their room, forget what you said, and start playing. You can label them as ‘defiant’ when really you talked too much.

2.) Use visual/Picture-based cues.

a. Visual cues can really help a child with processing information better. For example, with the nighttime routine (with younger children), you can have a simple printout of what to do with a picture next to each one. Have a bathtub with the word ‘bath’ next to it, then a toothbrush with ‘brush teeth’ next to it, and pajamas next to ‘pj’s.’ This also works great with other chores, like steps to washing clothes.

Now that you know more about ADP, maybe you know of someone or someone’s child that may struggle with this. The earlier the intervention, the better. Advocate for them, get them tested, get them the resources they need. Remember we as a group can support one another…our companions in healing.

Knowledge + Hope = Empowerment

Until next time,


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