Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) in adults

APD is a disorder where an individual’s brain is unable to process sound in the usual way. Some adults will have had undiagnosed APD since childhood and established coping mechanisms for what they assume to be a personality trait.

One of the most common problems experienced by adults with APD is understanding speech in environments where there’s a lot of background noise. This has been referred to as ‘Cocktail Party Deafness’. Cocktail Party Deafness describes social situations in which it is easy to become confused by general chatter and music, whilst trying to concentrate on a one-to-one conversation.

Adults with APD will experience difficulties with: –

  • Rapid speech, unfamiliar accents, and the processing of complex spoken sentences.
  • Using the phone. During phone conversations it is necessary to ignore sounds in the immediate environment in order to focus on the person speaking at the other end of the line.
  • The nuances of speech, for example, not picking up on sarcasm or irony.
  • Following multi-step instructions. The individual may hear and remember the first instruction; but because their processing of language is slow, they miss the second instruction, but hear the third, and so fail to follow the directions properly.
  • Following discussions in an environment with poor acoustics and a lot of echo, for example, restaurants, pubs or work canteens.
  • Hypersensitivity to certain sounds: finding some noise frequencies physically painful.

How can adults manage their APD?

  • Environmental modifications such as carpeting, curtains and soft furnishings will help to absorb excess noise.
  • By minimising background noise: sitting away from fans, air conditioning units, open windows next to busy streets, or talkative colleagues.
  • By asking for help. Ask if others would mind speaking as slowly and clearly as possible, attracting the individual’s attention before speaking to them, and using body language or visuals to emphasise key points.
  • By arriving early for meetings in order to sit in the best position, away from distractions, and with a good view of the speaker’s face and any visual aids.
  • When listening, the individual should focus on the person speaking, position themselves directly in front of them, and watch their body language and facial movements carefully. Ask the speaker if they could try not to cover their mouth with their hands or speak with their back turned.
  • By writing down anything of importance: dates, addresses, appointments or phone numbers.
  • By playing to their strengths. Adults with APD often think of points they would like to make after a discussion has moved on. If being put on the spot is difficult for the individual because of the time needed to formulate their response, they may prefer to write a report, send a text or use email .

Many adults will have found their own ways over the years to cope with their APD. However, as APD is thought to have a genetic component, it is worth parents being alert to any indictors of the disorder in their children in order to help schools to identify problems early. This will enable teachers to make more accurate diagnoses, and to support the children as appropriately as possible. 

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