Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I'm Not Going Deaf, I Just Have Auditory Processing Disorder.


That's something I commonly say when people are speaking to me. Only those that are closest to me know of my problems with hearing. For years, I've dealt with hearing loss and the inability to understand what people are saying.

Today, I finally got some answers.

For the first time ever, I had a consultation with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. After a vigorous hearing test and examination, I learned that my ears are perfectly normal. Their hearing capability is excellent. Other than some eczema in my ear canals that make them itch terribly, my auditory system is in tip-top shape.

So why can't I hear properly?

Well, the answer was far more boding than I expected. I have a rare condition called Auditory Processing Disorder.

In the simplest of explanations, Auditory Processing Disorder is an umbrella term for a malfunction in the central nervous system which incorrectly processes auditory information. The sensory data that my ears provide to my brain is perfectly captured, but my central nervous system has trouble translating that data into usable information.

When I speak to people, I usually have to be looking at them to understand what they are saying clearly. I can physically hear the sound of their voice, but often times their words are garbled and run together into one long, confusing series of sounds. If I'm not reading their lips (which today I realized I've been doing for a long time), I experience difficulty in separating the sounds and understanding their words. I also have trouble understanding what people are saying when there is background noise present -- televisions, radios, music, a crowd in a restaurant, etc.

Imagine trying to listen to a lecture by a very soft-spoken professor during a loud concert. That's what I deal with... all the time.

Honestly, I've never spoken about this publicly because it was slightly embarrassing. To think... me with a hearing problem! Did I need a hearing aid at such a young age? That's absurd... but I was worried it was true. Maybe I was going deaf.

At least now I know that I don't need a hearing aid. But, what do I do about the problem in my brain? Here's what I know so far.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) is a problem which scientists and doctors are still trying to decipher. It shares many characteristics with symptoms of other disorders like Autism, ADD/ADHD and Asperger syndrome, but there's a major difference. Whereas language interpretation with those other disorders is a result of the conditions themselves, APD is its own condition not directly resulting from any physical or mental impairment. APD is literally in a class of its own. Because intensive research on APD has only taken place in the last twenty years, there's much that isn't known.
"APD can manifest as problems determining the direction of sounds, difficulty perceiving differences between speech sounds and the sequencing of these sounds into meaningful words, confusing similar sounds such as "hat" with "bat", "there" with "where", etc. Fewer words may be perceived than were actually said, as there can be problems detecting the gaps between words, creating the sense that someone is speaking unfamiliar or nonsense words. Those suffering from APD may have problems relating what has been said with its meaning, despite obvious recognition that a word has been said, as well as repetition of the word. Background noise, such as the sound of a radio, television or a noisy bar can make it difficult to impossible to understand speech, since spoken words may sound distorted either into irrelevant words or words that don't exist, depending on the severity of the auditory processing disorder. Using a telephone can be problematic for someone with auditory processing disorder, in comparison with someone with normal auditory processing, due to low quality audio, poor signal, intermittent sounds and the chopping of words. Many who have auditory processing disorder subconsciously develop visual coping strategies, such as lip reading, reading body language, and eye contact, to compensate for their auditory deficit, and these coping strategies are not available when using a telephone."
Item for item, the above paragraph fits me exactly. It's depressing, but enlightening at the same time. So many of the problems I've experienced in life now actually make sense. I just wish there was more research on APD. It's such a new disorder that it's not even included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV). In fact, APD is so rare that there are no statistical numbers on how many people actually have the condition, which is usually diagnosed in children to begin with. Perhaps if my parents had taken me to a proper doctor in my youth, I'd have learned about my condition a long time ago.

Adults with APD experience many symptoms, such as:
  • talking louder than necessary
  • prefer quiet places
  • perform better with written material
  • have poor memory retention of auditory information
  • have trouble remembering a list or sequence
  • often needing words or sentences repeated
  • have a poor ability to memorize information learned by listening
  • interprets words too literally
  • need assistance hearing clearly in noisy environments
  • rely on accommodation and modification strategies
  • find or request a quiet work space away from others
  • asks for directions to be given one step at a time
How did I get APD?

Well, there's a couple of possible explanations. It could be linked to a genetic malfunction or heredity. Or, it could be a result of a developmental problem in my early youth. Clinical data has shown that isolated children with poor socialization may develop APD due to a lack of consistent auditory input from other people. In other words -- to hear people correctly, you must learn how to listen correctly in your youth, when development is most crucial. I definitely did not have that. Alternatively, APD can also result from a mixture of both developmental and hereditary problems.

I swear, it's like doctors wrote the textbook description of APD after reading about my life.

Where do I go from here?

Well, there's no surgical or medicinal solution to my problem. The best thing I can do is train my brain to work around the problem. This involves the use of higher-order brain functions to compensate for the problems in my auditory translation capability. In fact, I've already been doing that for years by unconsciously learning to read lips. Now that I know my hearing problem, learning to concentrate and use logic to reprocess what I hear is crucial. I need to be patient with myself and what I hear, then think about what is being said -- even if it takes me a little while to process it. In the future, if you speak to me and I don't immediately respond, it's because I'm working in my head to decipher what you said, even though my brain didn't translate it correctly.

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