When we think of communication, we generally think of spoken language. But that is not the only method of communication. For those without hearing, sign language is an effective visual language, and one that is rich and fully functional. Though it is processed in a different way, one that we may not think of often.
When we hear sounds, we process what we have heard, identifying bird song, music, and speech. Each tone we hear is identified and managed through a system referred to as auditory processing. Our brain interprets each sound and places it into a meaningful context. The complex sounds of spoken conversation are organized into meaningful communication and we rarely even think about it. Auditory processing is impossible for those without hearing and challenging for those with impaired hearing. The brain simply doesn’t get those signals to interpret and assign meaning to.
Language processing however, is something completely different. It assigns meaning to all modes of communication, including sign language, body language, facial expressions, and even the vibrations we feel from sounds. Our brains are flexible and able to utilize small details to add to communication. Communication need not be audible, as seen in the richness of sign language. In fact, different areas in the brain are activated, depending upon whether the communication contains an auditory component or not. The complex dance in the brain is different with the different systems stimulated. In addition, language processing can be disordered, and this will occur in all areas of language, not just auditory language, but language itself. This means that an individual will have challenges in processing any aspect of language. Auditory processing disorder would affect only the auditory aspects of language. People with auditory processing disorder use visual language components to augment their communication understanding and can do quite well with this compensation approach.
One example of the difference is to observe an interaction in a language in which you are not fluent. Basically, the verbal communication will be meaningless to you, but the gestures, inflections and interaction patterns will give you clues as to the conversation. You won’t have full understanding, but you may get some ideas. If, on the other hand, you listen to a conversation, with your eyes closed, particularly one with people who specialize in sarcasm, you will be using only your auditory processing component and will find that you miss out on some components. It is an interesting experiment to try out for yourself to help solidify your understanding of auditory processing and language processing. For those without deficits in these areas, they work together in an intricate dance that supports effective and easy communication. A challenge in either area will present unique difficulties to communication.