Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today. I’m glad that you are here. Today I am going to be talking about my experiences with Auditory Processing Disorder as another installment in the “My Diagnosis” Series.
This disorder is also known as: Central Auditory Processing Disorder and Receptive Language Disorder
To start off, Auditory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder in which a person has difficulty properly interpreting sounds received by the ears, particularly the phonemes of speech. Auditory Processing Disorder is common in ADHD and ASD. So, it could be caused by either of these conditions, both or neither. No way to tell really.
The biggest problem that this poses for me is that I have a difficult time processing what people are saying to me. This is more difficult in an environment that is filled with other noises and in our current culture that’s most places. This has had a major impact on both my work and on my social life. It definitely has an impact on my education which made things really hard when I was a student.
At work, I am given verbal information all of the time. I am expected to process and retain this information effectively. People that I work with can easily become impatient when I ask them to repeat information that they have stated to me or when I don’t understand verbal directions that I have been given. There have been times that this has led people that I work with to treat me like I am either not paying attention to them or that I am stupid. While my ADHD does present me with attention issues, this is generally not the problem I’m facing at work.
I find it frustrating that people are quick to jump to the assumption that I am stupid because I haven’t processed what they are saying properly. I must confess that this is a sensitive point for me and I am likely to respond by feeling immediate anger whenever someone suggests that I am stupid. This has happened to me so often during my life that I simply no longer have much patience for it. And I put a lot of my ego on my intellect, so that doesn’t help things either. There have been many conflicts at work that surround this very scenario. It can get exhausting.
In my personal life, I can quickly annoy or frustrate the people that I’m hanging out with because they have to repeat what they are saying so much. It is not uncommon for people to simply give up and state “never mind” when I’ve asked them to repeat themselves several times. While I understand why someone would decide what they said wasn’t worth the effort of repeating multiple times, the “never mind” approach usually leaves me feeling dismissed and excluding from whatever is going on. Especially when other people seem to be having a really good time engaging with that conversation.
The challenges with this is two fold. This first is how do I explain Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) in a succinct way? The second is what accommodations can I make or request that are actually feasible to implement?
Starting with the first, most people don’t know what APD is so telling them that I have that generally isn’t helpful. It also isn’t practical to go into education mode every time that I encounter a situation that I need the person I’m talking with to work with me for better communication. There have been times that I have stated that I have problems with my hearing. This isn’t technically accurate and does a disservice to us in the awareness arena. However, it does tend to expedite things as most people can understand what this means and can then move towards some reasonably accurate assumptions as to what will be helpful. Some of this is about finding balance. If it isn’t a good time to provide education then the awareness point is moot.
Thus, I generally seek balance in my approach. If it isn’t a time for teaching, I make the statement that I have problems with my hearing. If it is a good time for teaching then I will tell them I have APD and will try to educate them on what that means. When considering if it is a good time for teaching I consider three factors. The first thing is that they need to have a readiness to learn. The second is that there needs to be time for the teaching. Last, I need to have the spoons available to do the teaching. This means that more often then not, I don’t provide teaching. That’s just how it is.
Making accommodations for APD is complicated. Everyone is quick to recommend creating a quiet space for important conversations, but we rarely have control over the environment that we’re in. And when we’re considering the importance of conversation to socialization, most conversations are important. Hearing aids don’t help. It’s not about picking up the sound. The first problem that I have is being able to separate different sounds from each other and assign them to their source. The second problem is that I have a difficult time distinguishing similar sounds from each other. Hat and pat often sound the same to me.
When I am in a group of people and more then one person is talking, I cannot separate the voices from each other or from the back ground noise in the room. This means that I often get two speakers statements mashed together as a single statement. It also means that I have a difficult time telling who is speaking. This makes class rooms and meetings a huge challenge for being able to understand what is being said. But it creates challenges even when I’m in social situations. Talking in a crowd or in the car is super difficult.
Having APD also effects listening to music. I often cannot understand what the vocalist is actually saying and will have to look up the lyrics of songs that I like. This is why I generally cannot sing along with music. But it also effects my ability to track the different elements of the song. I personally still really enjoy music, but I am never able to talk about music on a technical level because I cannot experience it that way. Instead I can only tell you how music makes me physically and emotionally feel.
Just in general, APD has a major impact on the relationships in my life. Communication is at the heart of all our relationships and the majority of our communication in American culture is done through speaking with one another. APD makes it more difficult to connect to others because it is more difficult to communicate with others. One of the biggest things that most people don’t understand is that processing auditory information requires spoons for me. It isn’t something that I just intuitively, passively do. I have to put effort into it. This means that there are going to be days that I am better at it then others. There are days that I am not very functional in verbal communication at all.
This is why it is so important for other kinds of communication to be available to me as options. Being able to use texting or messaging applications at work is a huge help for me. Being able to write things out is a life saver. Written communication simply makes more sense to me. I can process it more quickly and I can provide it to you in a more fluent and cohesive manner. But nonverbal communication is also important and should be respected. I should be able to point to a cup and that be enough. If you understand what I want, why does it need to be in a verbal format?
The last thing that I want to mention about APD is that it creates a challenge for speaking. When we learn to speak we are mimicking the sounds that we are hearing other people using in their speech. If we are having a difficult time hearing the differences in various phenomes then we are going to have a difficult time properly reproducing them in our own speech. This can lead to social anxiety when we are talking to others because we don’t want to sound like we are dumb or don’t know how to properly use the words that we are choosing. This is especially true in formal or professional settings.
Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. I hope that you all find peace and wellness. Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!