Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.
Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CPAD) is a physical disorder under the protection of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). But put yourself in the other person’s place: how can your supervisor or spouse possibly know whether you made a mistake because of impaired hearing, lack of interest, or sheer ignorance? What can you tell those those at work or home to help the situation? Here are some ideas.
Do you have trouble hearing clearly when it’s noisy?
This can be a failure of one or more of the automatic noise-suppression systems of the brain. It is reasonable to ask for a desk away from the computers or for a sound-absorbent partition. It is both polite and efficient to say, “I’m interested in what you’re saying. Let’s move away from this noise so I can hear you better.” In addition, a mild-gain amplifier can help you hear accurately on the phone over the noise of a busy office.
Do you sometimes make silly mistakes or careless errors?
Intrusions of random sounds which normal-hearing people can ignore may break your concentration so that you lose your place and skip a task (like carrying a number or writing a small word in the sentence). Take the work to a quieter place if necessary. Earplugs (sometimes in only one ear which suppresses noise less well) are a possible emergency solution. You can also have someone else proofread your work, which is actually a good idea even for people without CPAD.
Do you miss important sounds or signals that others hear easily?
Poor noise suppression and sound localization skills can cause important voices or signals to disappear in the general background. It will save others time if they know to tap you on the shoulder before they launch into their conversation. Telephone bells and alarms can be adjusted for volume or pitch, or a visual or tactile signal can be added.
Do you get important messages wrong?
Sound distortion, sequencing, auditory-visual transfer, and/or short term memory problems may be contributors. You can ask for the information in writing, double-check later with someone else who was present, or let the speaker know that she’s going too fast. Even normal listeners often ask the person to repeat back information, “Let me read that back to you,” or “That’s ‘2932284’?”
Do you forget instructions?
Inefficient short term auditory and rote memory (or habituation) may figure in this. Get in the habit of taking notes, set up a logbook for longer-term assignments, and ask that the information be put in a memo. You might even carry a small tape recorder or dictaphone in some situations. If you often forget to go back to it later, put the memo or recorder where you must see it, as by your purse or underneath something you use every day.
Do you only get parts of more complex directions or lengthy explanations?
Here you may begin to suspect a problem with the subtleties of language, difficulty forming rapid word pictures to help with concept formation and memory, or failure to consider alternative word definitions so that meaning is mis-perceived. You can “freeze” it for later analysis by writing or taping. You can say “I learn better if I do it myself while you watch.” Have someone else help you fill in details later.
Do you have difficulty knowing what to say when, and are puzzled by others’ reactions to you?
One possibility is an inefficiency in the part of the brain which registers tonality (expression in the voice) and gives us “quick fix” on the situation (sometimes referred to with rough accuracy as a “right hemisphere disorder”). A professional can help you learn other cues by which to access how people are feeling about what you said and how to change what you say accordingly, much as anyone would have to learn about a foreign culture. In the meantime you might explain the problem to people you trust so their feelings aren’t hurt.
If you inherited parts of your CPAD or other learning disability from from your parents, they may have raised you with some of the harmful “scripts” that were part of the parenting they received in a generation where professionals and parents knew nothing about CPAD. Chances are your teachers or other professionals as you grew up were not well-informed about CPAD.
You may have been told “You’d do fine if you just apply yourself,” or “You’ll never amount to anything,” or even worse. If so, you know that those comments were not true or helpful. Work to rid yourself of those inaccurate parts of your self-image, forgive your parents and others for their lack of knowledge, and begin to heal yourself.
Remember that for you to have evolved to the point where you are educated and employable, you must have some positive attributes and special talents. These strengths are there to help you through the rough spots so work to identify them, either on your own or with the help of a good professional.
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About the Author
Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a practicing therapist, researcher and author specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and related disorders. Dr. Fredricks is a best-selling author of several books on complementary and alternative treatments for mental health. For more information on Dr. Fredricks work, visit her practice website www.DrRandiFredricks.com.