Auditory processing disorder (APD) impacts the brain and its ability to accurately process what someone is hearing. It’s important to note that this is not actually a problem with the ears. Those of us with APD don’t hear sounds in the typical way, though our ears may be working perfectly fine. It has to do with how the brain is filtering and interpreting incoming information.
Traditional measures to help with hearing loss won’t necessarily help with auditory processing. However, there are some options like hearing aids with remote microphones, known as personal FM systems that may help, as well as headphones aimed at reducing background noise. These options can help to filter out any extraneous noises the brain is competing with.
Auditory processing disorder can make things sound all jumbled up, or it can cause someone to have difficulty differentiating between words, such as “that” and “cat” or “thirty” and “thirteen.” Sometimes the words sound pretty similar, and other times they’re just completely different.
I regularly hear words differently than they are intended and my auditory processing disorder often makes it so I miss entire words or parts of conversations. I have to rely heavily on the context of conversations, as I sometimes hear words that make absolutely no sense. I then have to go through other words in my mind to try to pick one that I think might more accurately fit the conversation. Sometimes this results in me missing more of the conversation, because I’m so busy trying to figure out what someone has already said. This can cause people to think you’re intentionally not listening to them.
It’s important to note that for those of us with APD or auditory processing issues, when we ask for something to be repeated, it’s preferable to have the entire sentence repeated. It doesn’t help if you repeat the last word or two and we have no context for what’s going on. We know this may get annoying. We’re annoyed by it too.
Auditory processing difficulties tend to be amplified in noisy environments, like coffee shops and stores. If I’m already taking in a great deal of sensory information, the likelihood that I will be able to accurately decipher what someone is saying is quite low. It can help to have intentional conversation in quiet environments where I can really try to hone in on what someone else is saying.
For those of us working remotely, interacting via online platforms can have its positives and negatives in regards to auditory processing. While there are features such as closed captioning, it doesn’t always line up with what the other person is saying and there are often glitches keeping it from working altogether. It’s important that employers remain knowledgeable and up to date on current accessibility-related technologies, not just related to audio captioning, but across the board. So many people rely on things like audio transcripts and image descriptions just to be able to navigate daily life.
It can also be beneficial to get details of important meetings and tasks in writing, to ensure that deadlines and expectations are met. It may be helpful for employees to either write down what they’ve heard and repeat it back to ensure no miscommunications have occurred, or for tasks and notes to be written down for employees to make sure no details are missed.