I spent most of my childhood thinking I had hearing problems. I had many hearing tests but they just demonstrated that my ears were working. It was not until I got to uni and discovered I was dyslexic that I uncovered the route of my hearing troubles.
My ears work fine. If I pop a set of headphones on and listen intently I can tap to every tone I’m supposed to be able to hear. Yet I have difficulty hearing what people say. I have an auditory processing disorder.
There is nothing wrong with the mechanics of my hearing but in some conditions, my brain can really struggle to process sounds. My hardware is fine but my software is a bit iffy.
Impacts of auditory processing disorder
Auditory processing disorder (APD) is a deficit in auditory discrimination. A difficulty in distinguishing different sounds. For me, and many others, this is amplified in noisy environments. It can result in “miss hearing” (incorrectly decoding) words causing mix-ups between similar sounding words (70 and 17, or bat and bap for example).
Somebody with APD can find it difficult to locate where a sound is coming from. They may not be able to pick up on accents and place where someone is from. APD suffers can have difficulty spotting rhyming words.
When APD is coupled with sequential memory issues it can create challenges in taking in instructions such as directions, or in taking notes in meetings.
APD is an invisible disability (I can’t believe I’ve not blogged on the challenges associated with invisible disabilities). That said a dead give away is the constant “sorry”, “pardon”, “what?”, “can you repeat that please?”. Or the occasional “how do you spell that” having asked for something to be repeated an embarrassing number of times.
Social challenges of APD
APD can make it difficult to keep up with a conversation in a group. This is amplified in a noisy environment like a pub. The anxiety of asking some something to be repeated a third or fourth time can result in people with APD just smiling and nodding along with the conversation. This can lead to someone feeling quite isolated. Even when sat right in the middle of a conversation.
For someone with APD listening can take a considerable amount of attention. As a result, it is common for that to dominate the mind. This leaves no mental processing power left to read body language, interpret innuendo, or read other social cues.
My APD gives me an irrational hatred of the telephone. I would rather text/email or meet face to face than talk on the phone as it takes so much mental energy for me to focus on a phone call.
Strategies for coping with APD
I have a two-pronged approach to managing my APD. Firstly I try and meet people (socially or at work) in quieter places. For a business meeting, this might mean a meeting room rather than a coffee shop. Secondly, I try and focus on the conversation – no multi-tasking. This might sound obvious but I’m often in trouble with the long-suffering Mrs Differently Wired for having the TV on while talking and then not doing whatever I was I agreed to do.
I supplement the quiet space and focus approach with other techniques where they will make sense. If I have struggled to hear someone’s name I might ask for an email address or a business card so that I can keep in touch. If I am getting directions I might ask for them to be emailed to me. In a busy meeting/workshop, I might appoint someone to capture key notes, decisions and actions for circulation around all the attendees.