Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is where the signals between the brain and ear get muddled up, so the information the ears are picking up gets misinterpreted by the brain. This isn’t a problem with the ears, there’s no hearing problem but rather a processing issue by the brain.

Imagine a car on a road. For most people, information taken in by the ears is sent down a mostly straight road to the brain and ‘parked’ properly in the correct ‘space’. For those with APD, they start off with one car but the road turns into a motorway with lots of exits and twists and turns and by the time the car gets to the parking area it’s forgotten which space is the correct one and just parks in what it thinks looks like the best space. Now imagine when you’re in a busy social place, there’s a lot of noise entering the ears. For most people the ‘cars’ line up in the correct lanes and every car gets to their correct areas without too much hassle. For those with APD, the cars end up all over the road, no one seems to know which lane they are supposed to be in or where they are going. The end result is a big jumble with cars in all the wrong parking spaces and some missing altogether, lost somewhere on the busy motorway.

This can lead to lots of misunderstanding. They may mishear certain words and the result can be amusing or confusing. They may also say the wrong word, thinking one word but saying another. They may easily forget things, especially verbal instructions and may be unable to remember words and/or numbers in sequence and out of sequence. Spelling and maths may be affected and they may struggle to read and write.

My eldest son (Polar Bear) and I both have APD, we will often mishear words, both thinking that someone has said the same (wrong) word. This has caused some confusion and much hilarity in our family. When a person says, for example ‘It’s dinner time’ we may hear this as ‘It’s a bear alarm’. Both of us seems to mishear in the same way and the result is nearly always funny. These days I realise that if what a person says is silly or unlikely then I have usually misheard what they’ve said. Sometimes just waiting a few moments helps my brain to unpick what has been said, matching what I’ve heard to what is likely to have been said rather than simply believing what I’ve heard. Sometimes I need to ask for clarification to understand. Sometimes even with clarification I still cannot match what I’ve heard to what the person has said they’ve said.

I have a terrible memory, especially when it comes to verbal instruction and even worse when someone is trying to ‘paint me a picture’ with words. It’s like the information just doesn’t stay in my head, no matter how many times I repeat what I’ve been told. When a person is giving me multiple instructions at once I will usually be able to latch on to one piece of information and forget everything else. This can be problematic. Today we were at the hospital, one of the nurses quickly gave Polar Bear and I multiple instructions and sent us on our way. We managed between the two of us (and the fact that Polar Bear had been there before so knew where to go already) to get to where we were going. After the X-ray (the reason we were there) was over and we had placed the green card on the table as per instructions, we looked at each other as if to say ‘what now’. Neither one of us could remember if she had said to wait or go home. We presumed we were to wait, but where? There were two waiting areas and neither of us could remember where we were to wait (if at all). In the end a nurse called us over, stating that she thought we had gone home because we weren’t in the (correct) waiting area but had decided to look around for us anyway.

The amount of times I’ve spoken to people, intending to say one thing and out comes another word. I’ve said Wednesday instead of Tuesday, bacon instead of sausage, book instead of pen, dinner instead of breakfast. This isn’t because I’m not paying attention when speaking, although sometimes it is, most of the time I’m concentrating on what I want to say, I will have the imagine in my head to match what I want to say, I’ll make my mouth move to form the words and out comes…something else. Usually related to the word I want but still…it’s not helpful and can be confusing for others. I can’t eat bacon and would never order it but yet that’s what I said. Sometimes (after years of practice) I can recognise when I’ve misspoken. Most times I can’t tell, it’s only when the person I’m talking to mentions it that I realise I’ve said the wrong thing.

I’ve never been very good at maths, I have to write the numbers down just to work them out as I struggle to remember more than two digits in my head. I can’t recognise numbers unless they are written in order and get stuck if I were to repeat a sequence from the middle or backwards. The same with words, I have to really think to recognise that chocolate isn’t gullible backwards. It’s a lot easier when they are written down but I still struggle.

APD makes it difficult to manage in social situations and in school/work settings. People with APD are trying their hardest and it can be difficult to manage some things when your brain is getting it’s wires crossed. Help, support and techniques to manage are important to help them do their best work.

For more information try these sites:

This blog on APD is brilliant:

2 thoughts on “Auditory Processing Disorder”

  1. Thank you for this! Your blog is very helpful in helping me understand more about my son’s condition. I really appreciate u spending the time to write this x

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