I wanted first of all to say a special thank you to Sandy (@aspieteach) for her great post My Visit To The Audiologist and a tweet about having problems understanding accents due to her APD. If she hadn’t written either of those, I wouldn’t have bothered learning more about APD and wouldn’t had a massive Ah-ha! moment this morning.
I had heard the term Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) before in relation to kids with autism or sensory processing disorders and knew vaguely it was a problem with interpreting speech. They can hear fine, they just can’t make sense of what is being said. What I didn’t know if that this is not the whole story of APD. APD can also manifest in different ways. Sandy in her post talked about tolerance which is being unable to distinguish speech from background noise. I had a little ‘me too’ moment once I read that. Mobile phones used to be pretty much useless for me, except SMS, because I never could hear the person on the other end properly as being out and about the background noise & the speech just melted into one big noise. My mobile conversation were pretty much limited to “I will have to call you back”, which basically negated the fact of having a mobile in the first place. People soon learnt to SMS me if I wasn’t at home and that was a great solution but not always practical. My new phone (HTC Magic) has a volume control on it not only for the ring volume but for the actual call as well. Pushing it up to its highest, so that everyone around me can probably hear the conversation, I was finally able to have an actual conversation whilst out of the house. Also having conversations in noisy places like bars or if people next to be are also talking are troublesome and something I avoid. Therefore I don’t go to bars often because what’s the point if I can’t hear what anyone says to me.
Another issue I have always had is being unable to interpret sounds into written symbols. When I was a kid we learnt to spell by sounding out the word, this doesn’t work for me because I can sound out the word but I can’t translate the letter sounds into actual letters. I’m okay with individual letter sounds, but combinations of them, forget it. This was never picked up at school because I learnt to compensate for it. No one noticed that given a brand new word I could never spell it because I would ace spelling tests by rote learning how to spell the words. What I never realised is that this is a symptom of APD. I always thought I was dumb because I couldn’t spell words by sounding them out. It is also why I struggle to learn foreign languages as I can’t pronounce unknown words that I see written down as the sounds those letter combinations make just aren’t stored in my brain.
Accents are another thing I have major problems with and it is the one that causes me the most embarrassment as I feel I’m offending the person I’m talking to. The person may speak English perfectly, but if they have an accent, I simply can’t understand what they are saying. There is a whole branch of my family living in Scotland that I can’t communicate with because of this issue. As a kid going to visit them, this was so embarrassing as no one else had any problems communicating except me.
If you suspect that you or your child has an Auditory Processing Disorder, check out this wonderful checklist of symptoms. I probably won’t pursue any formal testing as the problems I have are quite minor in the scheme of things, but if you have major problems it is definitely something worth checking out.