Auditory processing disorder (APD) is one of the lesser known disabilities, but more and more it is being identified as the root cause of learning challenges. The most common type of APD is difficulty understanding language in the presence of competing sounds. There are actually four other subtypes of APD that present various challenges in school and in social interactions. A person can have one or more subtypes of APD.

The 5 subtypes of Auditory Processing Disorder are:

Auditory Decoding Subtype (typical APD):

  • It may seem like the person has a hearing loss but testing shows hearing is normal.
  • Will often mishear, but does not realize it and may even argue about what was heard.
  • Individual has difficulty filtering specific sound, especially in the presence of competing noises.
  • Cannot keep up with conversations, especially when someone talks quickly. May often say, “What?”
  • Has difficulty distinguishing sounds that are similar. This can show up as phonological processing issues when learning to read.
  • May have other delays in areas such as speech, language arts (especially reading), colloquialisms, social skills, understanding multiple meanings of words, understanding ‘wh’ questions (who, what, when, where and why).

Prosodic Subtype:

  • Difficulty understanding the nonverbal aspects of conversation, such as pitch, emphasis, tone, intonation.
  • May speak with a monotone speech pattern.
  • Pragmatics of speech are often disorganized. This can affect social skills and communication.
  • Struggles to summarize large pieces of information.
  • May struggle to understand cause and effect.
  • May receive a diagnosis of non-verbal learning disability.

Associative Subtype:

  • Has difficulty understanding language, especially with semantics (meaning of words).
  • May be diagnosed with receptive language disorder.
  • Interprets everything literally. May not understand jokes, sarcasm, or metaphors.
  • May have significant issues with pragmatics (organization) of speech.
  • Struggles to understand long, complex sentences.
  • Often says “I don’t understand”.
  • Learning to read may not be hard, but may have very poor reading comprehension.
  • Difficulty understanding relationships between words such as synonyms and antonyms.
  • Difficulty interpreting words that have more than one meaning.

Integration Subtype:

  • Difficulty synthesizing information so it can be utilized. For example, when given a set of instructions to perform a task, may not know how to interpret and utilize the information and apply it to the one task.
  • Struggles with tasks that require right/left brain integration, such as listening and writing notes at the same time.
  • Often has significant difficulty learning to read.
  • Once they learn to read, comprehension is very poor.
  • May have fine motor or coordination issues.
  • May have poor visual-motor abilities.
  • May have difficulty with rhythm and timing.
  • Usually has difficulty with spelling

Output-Organization Subtype:

  • Struggles with pragmatics (organization) of speech.
  • Severe difficulty understanding language in noisy situations.
  • Struggles with expressive language. May receive diagnosis of expressive language disorder.
  • May have issues with speech articulation.
  • Struggles to recall proper sequence of information.
  • Struggles to remember groups of information, especially if it must be recalled in a specific order.
  • Difficulty with executive function.
  • Difficulty with long or multi-step directions.

For more information on APD, or to find a local audiologist to help, join my Facebook support group: (Central) Auditory Processing Disorder. It’s free and provides a wealth of information and support for helping those who are challenged with APD.

5 Subtypes of Auditory Processing Disorder

Bonnie Landau
Bonnie Landau
Bonnie Landau is a special education advocate and educational consultant in Ventura County, California. Her goal is to help parents find strategies and solutions to help their children succeed in school and in life. Bonnie is the author of Special Ed Mom Survival Guide: How to Prevail in the Special Education Process and Find Life-long Strategies for You and Your Child.