For all my life I have had a disability called Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). People with CAPD have great difficulty understanding what others say, especially when in noisy environments such as cafeterias, playgrounds, gyms, bars, and public sporting events.
With me, the disorder manifests itself in two different ways. In loud environments, it’s similar to having a conversation with someone on the other side of a crowded indoor basketball court. Essentially, you can hear that everyone talking, but it’s almost impossible to pick out their voice from everyone else.
In more quiet environments. a good analogy is the teacher in Charlie Brown; you can “hear” perfectly that the person is talking, but cannot understand what they are saying. Sometimes it even “sounds” similar to that “wah wah wah” effect in the cartoon.
Despite this disadvantage, there are quite a few strategies someone with CAPD learns to be able to succeed. We’re typically good at reading lips and body language. Within Academics, it’s not uncommon to have stronger reading skills compared to peers, as individuals with CAPD learn early to compensate.
Unlike people that are deaf or have hearing loss, CAPD is not caused by anything wrong with the ear itself, but rather how the brain interprets signals from the ear via the nervous system.
There is no cure for CAPD, and people with it will face its unique challenges for the rest of their life. While the disorder is relatively mild compared to other chronic conditions, it does cause significant social irritation at times.
An Audiologist using specialized equipment is responsible for diagnosing the disorder. Testing is done in soundproof rooms which can resemble an enclosed vault or decompression chamber. The process can be lengthy as other issues such as hearing loss have to be ruled out.
For children, audiologists typically work with a team of psychologists and behavioral specialists to rule out disorders like ADD/ADHD, Austism, and language development disorders. These disorders are more common than general APDs, however they can also be a misdiagnosis. Children that don’t understand what they hear can act in a way that’s easily misinterpreted as inattentiveness or poor behavior by adults.