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 adults 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. in adults
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Auditory Processing Disorder in Adults

“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]

Auditory Processing Disorder Symptoms in Adults 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]

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.