What Is a Language Processing Disorder?

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  • Written By: Stephany Seipel
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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A language processing disorder is a neurological problem that affects how the listener interprets auditory information. Also called auditory processing disorder, word deafness and central auditory dysfunction, this disorder interferes with a child's ability to follow directions, remember information, and pay attention. Audiologists, teachers, parents and speech-language pathologists treat the problem by helping the child develop successful compensatory strategies and by implementing changes to the child's environment.

Auditory processing disorders are categorized according to the area in which the child is experiencing difficulty. For example, some children have short-term memory problems, which affects their ability to remember recent verbal information. A child with a short-term memory issue might frequently ask the parent or teacher to repeat oral information.

Other children are unable to retain auditory information for long periods of time. These children might not be able to follow multiple-step directions. They often forget the material they learned during previous lessons, especially if the teacher presented the information verbally rather than in written form.

A child who has a language processing disorder related to auditory figure-ground discrimination is unable to filter out important information from background noise. This child might seem like he or she is not paying attention, particularly if the surroundings are noisy. If his or her difficulty lies in auditory sequencing, this child might not be able to remember the order of spoken words.


Auditory discrimination, which is the ability to tell the difference between similar sounds, is a critical reading skill. A child who has a language processing disorder in this area might have difficulty telling words apart if they sound alike, such as “mouse” and “mouth.” He or she might also have problems distinguishing between similar letter sounds and might be unable to successfully blend sounds together to form words.

A child with a language processing disorder might act as if he or she cannot hear, even if he or she has normal hearing. This child might have difficulty with written language skills as well as oral language. His or her spelling may be poor, and he or she might struggle with vocabulary, reading comprehension or word problems. The child might also demonstrate poor academic growth, receive low or failing grades, or act out in the classroom.

An audiologist diagnoses a language processing disorder by performing a series of auditory tests. Once a diagnosis is made the parents, teachers and speech-language pathologist work together to provide therapy. The teacher might provide written materials or pictures to accompany verbal instructions, for example, while the parents might make sure the child has a quiet area to study. A speech-language pathologist will also develop an individualized plan to help the child.


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