I want to start out today’s post by saying I have not been formally diagnosed with auditory processing disorder, but I wanted to call attention to this condition because I relate to it an awful lot. My husband and my old roommate who I lived with for five years would both argue that there is absolutely no way I don’t have auditory processing disorder. Maybe this is just one more thing I’ll get tested for once the pandemic is over.
What Is Auditory Processing Disorder?
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone at a concert, sporting event, or on a noisy train/subway? It’s difficult to hear the other person, right? Having auditory processing disorder is like all your conversations take place in some kind of stadium or subway station, even if you’re actually sitting in a quiet classroom or even your own living room.
According to Understood.org, people with auditory processing disorder have a hard time with four key things:
- Auditory discrimination, AKA, being able to hear the difference between similar sounds (i.e. mishearing “seventy” as “seventeen” and vice versa)
- Auditory figure-ground discrimination, AKA, being able to focus on the most important sounds in a noisy environment (i.e. not being able to focus on your boss’s instructions because your coworkers are having a loud conversation nearby)
- Auditory memory, AKA, remembering auditory information (i.e. forgetting your teacher’s verbal instructions as soon as he’s done talking)
- Auditory sequencing, AKA, understanding auditory information in the order that it’s presented to you (i.e. hearing what someone said last but not being able to understand what they said at the beginning or in the middle)
What Is It Like to Have Auditory Processing Disorder?
So how does all of this affect a person’s daily life? What does auditory processing disorder look like in real life?
It looks like constantly asking “What?” or “Huh?” when other people talk because for the life of you, you have no idea what they just said even though you know you were listening.
It looks like missing out on chunks of conversation because your brain can’t seem to filter out the sound of that noisy air conditioner, someone’s tapping foot, or other conversations around you.
It looks like issues with reading or spelling, especially reading out loud.
It looks like taking a moment or two to respond when someone talks because you’re still processing what they said even after they’re done talking.
It looks like using subtitles any time you’re watching TV (if you identify with these issues but haven’t tried subtitles yet, I highly encourage it, it will change your life).
It looks like listening and paying close attention when someone is giving you multi-step verbal directions, but still instantly forgetting what you’re supposed to do because your brain can’t hold onto the auditory information.
Is Auditory Processing Disorder a Mental Illness?
Since this is a Mental Health Monday post, you might think auditory processing disorder is a mental illness or mental health condition, but it’s actually not. According to some experts, it is a neurological condition where a person’s physical hearing is just fine, but their brain has trouble processing auditory information. Other experts, though, aren’t sure it is its own disorder at all, but may actually be part of ADHD, since the two are so closely related and an estimated 50% of people with ADHD also have auditory processing disorder. Still other experts believe that many people are misdiagnosed with ADHD when they really have auditory processing disorder, and vice versa.
Basically, it isn’t very well understood, but it’s important that we start working on improving our understanding of auditory processing disorder, because it can have a serious affect on people’s lives.
It might not sound like a big deal to occasionally mishear a few things, but in reality, auditory processing disorder is so much more than that. It can create a lot of tension in relationships, negatively impact school work and job work, and lead to a certain amount of social isolation. I know about all of these issues personally. My old roommate never minded having to repeat herself several times a day, every day, possibly because she was the same way a lot of the time, but it drives my husband up a wall. Because he doesn’t have issues processing auditory information, he can’t help but feel like I’m not listening on purpose, or like I just don’t care about what he’s saying. In reality, I just can’t hear him.
I’ve also had issues completing tasks successfully because I couldn’t focus on and remember the verbal instructions. Thankfully, in my educational and professional experience, instructions were almost always written down, but at home, my parents always gave verbal instructions, and as a result, I often did things wrong and got yelled at for not paying attention or being lazy.
Given these issues, sometimes in social situations it was easier to just shut up, or even leave. I couldn’t understand people like 45-70% of the time depending on the setting, and I was afraid of saying the wrong thing because I misheard, so I would just sit and do my best to listen. This made me seem shy and withdrawn at best, or disengaged and snooty at worst. Either way, it didn’t really make people keen to reach out to me, and because I could sense their hesitation about me, I didn’t want to reach out to them either, creating a cycle that led to social isolation.
Tips For Dealing with Auditory Processing Disorder
Honestly, I don’t have a ton of advice for how to deal with this issue that I’ve tried in my life, but I do have some advice that has worked for others, so here goes:
- Learn more about auditory processing disorder and start to accept that you are not dumb, lazy, or inconsiderate. Your brain just doesn’t process auditory information quickly or consistently, and that causes problems for you.
- Instead of immediately asking “What?” or “Huh?” when you don’t hear someone, give it a beat and wait to see if you did hear them but your brain is just processing their words slowly. I can’t count the number of times I say “What?” and as soon as the person starts explaining again, I realize I did hear them, it just took me a second.
- Ask your teacher or boss for written instructions whenever possible. You don’t need to disclose that you have auditory processing disorder or ADHD if you aren’t comfortable with that, just say you have found that written directions help you stay organized and efficient (emphasize how it will make their life easier instead of yours).
- Try speech therapy. A speech therapist may be able to work with you to help with auditory discrimination and improve your tolerance to distracting noises. I haven’t tried this, but I did go to school to be a speech pathologist for a while and I actually think this could help!
- Start pausing the TV whenever having conversations. It might be annoying at first, but it will help you understand what others are saying, which will be less annoying than asking them to repeat themselves over and over.
Hopefully these help! If you have auditory processing disorder, or if you relate to this post, let me know! It’s always nice to know I’m not alone, and I love hearing everyone’s tips for dealing with these things. And make sure you enter your email in the box below to subscribe so you don’t miss any future Mental Health Monday posts!