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Understanding CAPD

by Scott Crouse, Certified School Psychologist, of
Although CAPD is sometimes promoted as a rather new term within the broader area of learning disabilities, in reality the notion of an auditory or language-based learning disability has been considered since the earliest days of LD diagnosis. In essence, a Central Auditory Processing Disorder describes a situation in which the underlying cause of a student's learning difficulties is believed to be a generalized weakness in the ability to cognitively process verbal or 'auditory' information. Typically, such a student performs quite well nonverbally (with visual or 'hands-on' activities) but struggles to understand or remember information which is presented verbally. This is not due to poor hearing but is related to an assumed weakness in the brain's ability to fully or efficiently process auditory information.

In the early days of LD diagnosis and treatment, evaluators would frequently look at differences between Verbal and Nonverbal (Performance) IQ scores in order to diagnose learning disabilities. A relatively low Verbal IQ score suggested underlying auditory or language-based processing difficulties which were believed to be the cause of the student's learning difficulties. As our professional understanding of cognitive processing broadened, it became apparent that there was much more to most learning disabilities than simply a difference between verbal and nonverbal abilities. Ultimately, it was found that many students who were formerly believed to have verbal or auditory processing weakness were more accurately diagnosed through other processing models. As a result, the visual/auditory or verbal/nonverbal comparison lost favor as a diagnostic process.

So why has the CAPD term made such a dramatic comeback in recent years? Well, as with many other educational theories which lose favor and then are later resurrected, it seems that psychologists and other educational diagnosticians have found reason to believe that certain subgroups of LD students not only demonstrate the old 'verbal vs. nonverbal' discrepancy but also often demonstrate other characteristics which set them apart from other LD students. These characteristics frequently include difficulty maintaining attention, difficulty with detailed memorization, and generalized difficulty with planning or organizational skills.

Because of the rather unique cluster of behaviors and cognitive skills found with these CAPD students, some professionals have even suggested the need for a separate CAPD special education category. Other educational professionals are skeptical of the need for such a classification and note that this same pattern of behavioral and cognitive skills is found in many students who have been identified with generalized sequential processing difficulty or some form of attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD).

Clearly, the primary factor in diagnosing a true auditory processing learning disability (such as CAPD) is the documentation of a generalized weakness in verbal or language-based information processing skills. This continues to be most accurately evaluated though formal cognitive assessment by an instrument (or battery of instruments) which evaluates both verbal and nonverbal abilities and provides broad cluster scores in both of these areas. If problems are also being identified in nonverbal areas (such as the Coding subtest of a Wechsler IQ test) the CAPD diagnosis may not be appropriate. Students with real auditory processing weakness will typically struggle most with academic tasks which involve lectures or written instruction and which provide limited visual or nonverbal information. These students will generally have most difficulty in the areas of reading and writing due to difficulty processing or expressing language-based information. Math will probably be relatively strong.

When the CAPD diagnosis is being considered it is very important not to overlook the possibility of generalized sequential processing weakness and/or an underlying attention deficit disorder.

Scott Crouse is a Certified School Psychologist. His site,, provides practical information about all types of learning disabilities, learning styles, and learning disorders plus new sections related to emotional and behavioral concerns! Try the free online learning disability and emotional/behavioral rating scales.
You can reach him at:

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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