Auditory Processing Disorder

What Does Auditory Processing Disorder Look Like in Adults?

People with auditory processing disorder struggle to understand and interpret the world thanks to problems in the way their brains process sound. Though most people with APD are diagnosed in childhood and adolescence, undetected symptoms could explain your difficulties comprehending language and communicating. Read on to find out.

Difficulty hearing because of auditory processing disorder.
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“Garbled.” That’s how many adults describe communicating and living with auditory processing disorder (APD). APD makes it difficult to understand and interpret information presented orally. Auditory processing disorder in adults may manifest as poor listening skills, poor reading comprehension, or miscommunication that causes trouble with coworkers, partners, family and friends. For many people, living with APD is “like trying to listen on a cell phone with the signal cutting in and out,” according to Lois Kam Heymann, M.A., CCC-SLP.

“There’s no tiny speaker inside your brain that relays messages from the outside,” explains neurologist Martin Kutscher, M.D., author of ADHD – Living without Brakes. “What you think you ‘hear’ is a virtual-reality recreation of sounds that stopped at your eardrum and, from there on, exist as soundless electrical impulses.”

Here’s what happens in an exchange between speaker and listener:

  • The speaker’s vocal cords produce a sequence of vibrations that travel invisibly through the air and land on the recipient’s eardrums.
  • The listener’s eardrums vibrate, causing movement of three tiny bones that, in turn, stimulate the cochlear nerve. This is essentially where “sound” ends.
  • From this point, what the listener thinks he “hears” is actually a series of silent electrical stimuli carried by neuronal wires.

“The brain processes these electrical impulses into sounds, then into words, and then into meaningful sentences and ideas,” Kutscher says. “Most of us do it effortlessly. Some adults have problems in converting these electrical neuronal impulses into meaning. We call these problems Central Auditory Processing Disorders.”

[Self-Test: Auditory Processing Disorder in Adults]

Symptoms at Home

“What?” and “Huh?” are your most common responses. This, and other common manifestations of APD may be apparent for adults at home:

  • You listen to the TV at full volume, but still have difficulty understanding what’s going on.
  • Despite wanting to listen to your partner’s requests, you are always in trouble for not paying attention when she asks you to do something.
  • You have difficulty finding your way around town.
  • When you leave your grocery list at home, you’re mystified as to what was on it.
  • After meeting people at a cocktail party, you can’t remember any of their names.
  • When you’re out with friends at a noisy bar, you can’t comprehend what’s going on.
  • In conversations, you always get the feeling you’re missing something.
  • In elementary school, you lagged behind other kids in language arts, even though you were great at math.

[How to Treat Auditory Processing Disorder]

Symptoms at Work

These or similar manifestations of APD be may be apparent at work:

  • You have difficulty remembering and following multi-step directions.
  • When co-workers speak to you in busy places, like the cafeteria, you have trouble clearly understanding.
  • Sometimes you make “silly” or “careless” mistakes, like adding instead of subtracting.
  • Often you don’t notice your phone is ringing and miss important calls.
  • You have trouble discerning if your boss is angry with you when she calls you in for a meeting.
  • Spell-check is your best friend.

If you experience these or similar symptoms of APD, consult an audiologist or speech pathologist for a formal assessment.

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  1. A lot of these issues bother me. At the same time, I am able to work at Starbucks. Now, if I have a conf call from Starbucks, I get very anxious and frustrated. But when I’m designing something, the ambient noise does not bother me. I went with my son to get his hearing tested. I sat with him in the soundproof room. It was pure heaven in there!

    Why doesn’t Starbucks bother me when I’m designing, but it does bother me on a call? I seem to be able to focus on my craft, but when I need to communicate the ambient noise becomes an issue.

    1. My Husband has the same issues. Conference calls are the worst. For him, he finally figured out that when at work he also looked at the person speaking and was unconsciously lip reading as well as listening. On a conference call, he couldn’t see anyone’s lips so therefore it was all listening. Maybe the same is happing to you Joseph.

  2. I have both a raging AdHD and difficulty hearing and remembering names . However the environment can produce opposite results. I am notorious for not only forgetting names but also easily remembering music and numbers both short term and long. I can recall telephone conversations verbatim for business and never understood why other people did not, specially after they had made commitments. I now document every conversation by email or letter. Despite this i was unable to understand completely anything my third wife said. If she spoke i had to be able to read her lips to know what she was saying. Introductions and names was my achilles heal.
    Eventually i retired and and sold my business. Technically I stayed on for 6 months but there was literally no space or even a desk to sit at. I spent two days making the acquaintance of all the new people who would be taking on my consulting work…19 in all. At a noon meeting of everyone in the conference room the next day the president of the new org. who i had known for over a decade stood up. He knew of my notorious memory but wanted his staff to know i was human and could never remember names. I had spent the previous day in what i have learned since was an ADHD hyper focus status and had no trouble going around the table identifying all 19, astounding even myself. To this day i cant account how I remembered much less heard all those names.

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