Nonmodularity of the central auditory nervous system: Implications for (central) auditory processing disorder

Frank E. Musiek, Teri James Bellis, Gail D. Chermak

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


This response to A. T. Cacace and D. J. McFarland (2005) identifies points of agreement and disagreement regarding the concept of modularity in the diagnosis of (central) auditory processing disorder [(C)APD]. We concur that the evaluation of (C)APD must take into consideration the influence of higher order global or pansensory issues on performance on tests of central auditory function. To accomplish this goal, multidisciplinary (e.g., multimodal) testing is an integral part of differential diagnosis of (C)APD. We also agree that the efficiency of diagnostic tests of (C)APD should not be evaluated by imprecise criteria [e.g., "presumed" or "suspected" (C)APD], which do not provide accurate measures of the true sensitivity and specificity of these tests. Our conceptualization and recommendations for clinical practice in this area diverge, however, from that of Cacace and McFarland in a number of pivotal ways. Based on the current limitations of multimodal assessment relative to issues related to scope of practice and test efficiency, as well as the accumulated basic science and clinical literature that demonstrates the non-modularity and interactive organization of the brain, we recommend use of the sensitized test battery of the central auditory nervous system (CANS) in combination with multidisciplinary testing to differentially diagnose (C)APD and to guide treatment of the disorder. We assert that sensitivity and specificity measures derived from individuals with well-circumscribed lesions of the CANS provide an important guide to establishing the validity of central auditory diagnostic tests. We note that researchers in the area of auditory science and (C)APD must acknowledge the challenges of the clinical arena, and we encourage their continued help to develop diagnostic tools that are both efficient and practical for the differential diagnosis of (C)APD. We conclude that our approach, which combines multidisciplinary evaluation and specific tests of central auditory function that have demonstrated sensitivity and specificity for disorders of the CANS, allows us to identify (and thus rehabilitate) the auditory deficits present in individuals with (C)APD in its "purest" form. It also permits the identification and rehabilitation of auditory deficits in individuals who exhibit auditory perceptual problems that coexist with other processing problems, while ruling out those who perform poorly on auditory tests because of a global, supramodal problem involving cognition, attention, language, memory, or related skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-138
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican journal of audiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Speech and Hearing


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