What is auditory processing disorder?

If you or your child have trouble understanding speech, especially in noisy places, you might be living with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD).

APD affects how the brain handles auditory information, such as normal sounds.

What exactly is APD?

APD is a neurological condition that affects the brain's ability to process sounds in the same way as most individuals.

Unlike hearing loss, APD does not involve a physical impairment of the ears or the ability to detect sounds.

Instead, it impacts the way the brain interprets and understands the sounds it receives through your ears.

Symptoms of auditory processing disorder

The symptoms of APD can vary from person to person, ranging from quite subtle to more pronounced.

If you're living with APD, you'll likely experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in noisy environments - You might struggle to understand speech when there is lots of background noise. Unlike hearing loss, this is because your brain finds it hard to filter and focus on the main conversation.
  • Frequent misunderstandings - Regularly needing to ask people to repeat themselves, or misinterpreting spoken instructions is common if you're living with APD. Words that sound similar to one another can also be easily misunderstood.
  • Delayed responses - You may notice a lag in your response to verbal communication. This delay isn't about not hearing, but rather about the time it takes for your brain to process and understand the sounds, and then for you to come up with a relevant response.
  • Auditory memory challenges - Remembering details from conversations, lectures or lessons can be difficult. This aspect of APD affects your ability to retain and recall information that you hear.

How is APD diagnosed?

In order to be diagnosed with APD, you'll need to go through a detailed process, involving an audiologist and often a speech-language pathologist.

First, you'll need to visit an audiologist, who will conduct a standard hearing test to ensure that you have no issues with your hearing.

Once hearing loss is ruled out, they proceed with specific auditory processing tests.

These tests are designed to assess how effectively you can process and understand different sounds, particularly in noisy environments.

You might be asked to listen to various sounds or spoken words and then respond to questions about them.

This thorough evaluation is crucial, as APD can show symptoms similar to other conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other learning or language difficulties.

By accurately diagnosing APD, the right strategies and support can be implemented to help manage the condition effectively.

APD's link to other conditions

APD often intersects with other conditions, which can make its diagnosis and management more complex.

For instance, many people living with APD also experience language disorders or learning disabilities, which can overlap with the symptoms of APD.

Additionally, there is a notable connection between APD and ADHD, where challenges in auditory processing and attention regulation exist together.

Although this overlap of symptoms can sometimes lead to confusion in diagnosis, it's important that you persevere throughout the process.

With a correct diagnosis, healthcare professionals will be able to provide you with a much more tailored and comprehensive treatment plan to address your specific needs.

Managing APD in daily life

APD can significantly impact daily life for both adults and children, affecting various aspects of your everyday experiences.

For children, APD often poses challenges in school settings, where difficulties in processing auditory information can impact their ability to follow instructions, engage in classroom activities, and understand spoken material.

This can lead to struggles with academic performance and social interactions, as they might misinterpret what teachers or friends say.

For adults, APD can affect workplace communication and productivity, especially in environments with a lot of background noise or where verbal instructions are common.

If you are living with APD and feeling the impacts of the condition on your work, there are Disability Employment Services like APM that can help.

One of our friendly employment consultants can work with you and your employer to assist with making any workplace modifications that you need to help you perform well and stay in your job.

Outside of work, APD can impact social relationships and situations, due to regular misunderstandings in conversations.

If you're living with APD, no matter your age, you might also experience increased fatigue and stress due to the extra effort required to process auditory information.

Understanding and managing these impacts is critical for improving your quality of life and ensuring you can participate in educational, professional, and social situations in the way you want to.

While living with APD comes with challenges, an effective treatment plan will help you navigate these difficulties and develop strategies to improve your auditory processing skills.

When to visit a healthcare professional

If you think you or someone close to you might have Auditory Processing Disorder, it's a good idea to see a healthcare professional.

This is especially important if there are ongoing issues with understanding speech, particularly in noisy places, or if following spoken instructions is a constant challenge.

Experiencing these difficulties at school or work is also a very clear way to know when it's time to visit a healthcare professional, such as your GP, to get started.

Getting professional support early is key, as it can make a big difference in daily life and improve your overall quality of life in both personal and professional areas.