Monday, March 26, 2018

Now I Know the Name of the Beast: It's Called APD

Surprise. Here I am heading happily into my retirement years, only to discover the name of the beast disorder that's afflicted me for my entire life. And affected my entire life.

I have APD.

I've always known something was a little off from the time I was in elementary school, but back in those days, research was just getting started and no one really knew what APD was. No, my brand of APD isn't Acid Peptic Disease (though that's another APD), it's not a respiratory disorder (that's COPD), and it's not the behavioral disorder (OCD) though it can certainly affect my behavior, and it has been, as I mentioned, life-altering.

APD is Auditory Processing Disorder, and for this author, it's always been a pretty major impediment in doing what authors generally need to do. This disorder affects an average of 5% of school-aged to adult people (some sources say as high as 10%), has no cure, and is usually related to genetics, chronic ear infections, or an injury to the central nervous system. In my case, I either inherited the genes, or it was due to severe ear infections I had when I was a threebie, or it's due to a fall I took from a horse when I was eight that caused other mild injuries. I suspect it's genetic, because I can't remember a time I didn't have the symptoms.

Here's a basic summary of the disorder:
  • Symptoms include difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, following directions, and distinguishing between similar sounds.
First of all, and fortunately for me, the level of my particular disorder is very mild. So as APD cases go, I'm blessed. It can occasionally be coupled with dyslexia, which I don't have. But some cases are so severe that the individual can't process auditory information at all. This results in severe learning disorders where they fail in school, and/or are placed in Special Ed or special programs. In very severe cases, individuals may be unable to effectively communicate and/or develop severe behavioral problems. And it can also affect adults in their careers, of course.

It has nothing to do with intelligence, but it has everything to do with the ability to process sound.

How APD Affects Me

If I'd had a severe case, I never could have become an author. I wouldn't have been able to effectively express myself, verbally or non-verbally. But I was pretty much an honor student all through school (if you don't count Chemistry or Advanced Math -- ack!) and into college, where I maintained a 4.0 average. But that's because most learning situations involved a teacher or instructor speaking to a quiet class or my reading information from textbooks. No problemo there! It's only when we did group exercises, with several people talking at once, that I really struggled.

And there's where, early on in school, one perceptive teacher zeroed in on a possible issue with me. She could tell I wasn't "catching on" in group situations.

A battery of hearing tests was recommended. I took them. The outcome? Perfect hearing. Perfect. Full range, exceptionally acute hearing. I had no issues with being "hard of hearing" as it was called in those days, but after one particular test, they caught something. They just didn't know how to explain it. Or what to do about it.

At that point the disorder had no name and audiologists weren't quite sure what caused it, since the first identification and studies of the disorder had just begun a few years earlier. So they told my Mom that, in effect, where other people hear in 3D, I hear in one dimension. I can't sift out individual voices or sounds in a noisy environment. Essentially, my brain interprets all sound as one big, solid wall of auditory information and it can't focus on or pick out the individual bricks that make up that wall.

How APD Can Affect an Author

So let me tell you how it's impacted me as an author. Because it has nothing to do with my ability to write, right? Well, that part is true, but it has affected me in other ways. Here's a few examples of how APD can make life difficult. And especially why the thought of attending major writers' events like RWA and RT are beyond intimidating.

There's a Good Reason I Don't...

Join the SFR Author Panels
*Gasps in horror* I avoid panels because, like every author, I want to put on my best face for readers and having to ask someone three or more times to repeat their question because someone in the room coughed, or shuffled papers, or was chatting with their neighbor at the same time the question is asked is both annoying to the person addressing me, and makes me look deaf, at best, and a bit of an idiot, at worst. So, nope. I've never participated in a SFR panel. Curse you, APD!

Participate in the RWA or RT Book Signing Events
No. Just absolutely, positively no. We're talking about a massive room where there are hundreds of authors and possibly thousands of participants...all excitedly squeeing and shouting because they've just met the author of their dreams or a long lost friend. I swear the sound levels at these things get somewhere in the range of 85 decibels. Talk to people about my book? Sure, I can talk about it, I just can't interpret their comments or questions. Or I have to ask them a dozen times to please say that again and...well, see "Join the SFR Author Panels" above. I rarely venture into these cavernous rooms even to buy books, because, while I can hear everything, I just can't understand anything that individuals or authors say when they speak to me. Seriously. It's beyond frustrating.

"Go talk in the bar."
Um...yikes. With scores of other writers, authors and professionals all talking, drinking and laughing in that huge central hotel bar, I'll be lucky to interpret every fifth word that's said, and then, I'll have to concentrate hard to string together enough words to actually follow the drift of the discussion. I may say, "What's that again?" and lean closer. I may have to get up and walk to where the speaker is, asking them to repeat their words several times--like two inches away from my ear--in order to pick enough of their words out of the din to grasp a bit more of what they're saying. Having attended these events with Sharon and Donna, I'm sure they remember me pleading with them to find somewhere quiet where we could talk. Sometimes (New York, I'm looking at you) there just was no "quiet place" to be found. And then I struggled.

My first meeting with a bunch of Brigaders also happened in a very noisy, chaotic bar in Orlando (I think it even had a waterfall...yoiks!) and...yep, I struggled. I ended up nodding my head a lot and smiling and saying "Yeah" even though I had no idea what the heck I was yeahing to. For all I know someone had just asked who my fave SFR authors were, and I'd nodded my head and replied, "Yeah." It's kinda funny...except it's not.

I actually love to talk to people--especially other writers--though most people probably wouldn't know that. My favorite places to chat are quiet corridors, hotel lobbies (provided they don't have waterfalls or a lot of traffic), a quiet snack bar, and before, after or between workshops when there's not a huge crowd around. Over drinks in a bar with sane levels of noise? Absolutely. Quiet outdoor courtyard bars, I love you! Echo-y, bustling lobby bars? Forgetaboutit. Some of my favorite RWA National locations are DC and Anaheim. My least favorites are, you guessed it, Orlando and New York.

But even in a quiet setting I sometimes have problems processing what's being said, especially if it involves complex ideas. That's part of APD too, because my brain doesn't always interpret verbal information effectively. You know how there's always that one person who suddenly bursts out in a fit of laughter a minute after everyone else has stopped? Present! * raises hand *

In fact, my behavior, as a result of being "sound-challenged" often strongly resembles another disorder with the same initials -- Avoidant Personality Disorder.

What Can I Do About APD?

Learn to cope. As I mentioned, there's no cure and it's never going away. There are indications that hearing aids might help some people with APD in certain situations. I don't know if my case is one of them, but I'm willing to explore the option.

(As much as it rankles me. A hearing aid? At my age? Oh...wait....yeah. LOL)

Since I can't currently participate in the types of events most authors employ for discoverability and getting their books out there, I'm going to have to brainstorm other avenues. I've got a few ideas. We'll see how things go.

But one of the big reasons I decided to do this little testimony today is for the benefit of millions of others out there (2% - 10% of the population is huge!) who may have some level of APD and just don't realize it. It's for all the Moms and Dads and friends and individuals who recognize my symptoms and realize they know someone who may also be suffering from APD.

Some of the symptoms are:
  • Becoming upset by noisy environments
  • Becoming easily distracted or bothered by loud noises
  • Having difficulty with verbal directions
  • Having difficulty following conversations
  • Having difficulty with verbal math problems, exercises or explanations 
  • Having difficulty processing or remembering lists related verbally 

Want to see what it's like to have APD? This video is a good example:





Want to take the test given in the video above? Here it is:
Auditory Test  (PBS.com Misunderstood Minds)

Tell me how you did in comments.

Granted, this particular exercise might be difficult for anyone to complete, but it gives you a good idea what it's like to have APD.

So there you have it. My confession about my disability. And for full disclosure, now you probably understand why I'm more than a little daunted about the 2018 RWA Nationals. Which I just signed up for.

Ooh yes, I did! *bites fingernails*

Think you may be struggling with APD? Trust me, you're not alone. You can Google "Auditory Processing Disorder" (sometimes also called "Central Auditory Processing Disorder") for more information and search Facebook with the same phrase to look for support groups.

There seems to be a lot of help available to school-age children, so you might want check with your school health official. But if you're an adult who suspects they may have APD, you might want to read this article.

I'm also interested in finding and putting together a support group for authors, to discuss our particular struggles with APD and to talk about our options. If you're interested, please let me know.

Learn More:
A very informative article from Kids Health on Auditory Processing Disorder
Wikipedia: Auditor Processing Disorder
What is Auditory Processing Disorder? from WebMD (where you can livechat with MDs)

Have a great week!




20 comments:

  1. I got the first couple...then totally lost it! lol But then I do have APD - coupled with mild dyslexia. Mine shows most in the inability to listen to read text. People reading out a story that we have to crit. Double nightmare <--holistic brain ;-)

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  2. ((Hugs)) Laurie! Thank you for sharing this with us. I never knew there was such a thing as ADP, but bars and other noisy places do test my listening skills sometimes. So, I took the test.

    It wasn't easy to hear some of the instructions. My results: 5 squares in the right place, one in the wrong place, and 3 not placed. I think that's pretty good and probably means I don't have APD, or if I do, it's not bad.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I will certainly be mindful of crowded/noisy situations with you while we're at RWA in July. XOXO

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  3. I know exactly what you mean, Kim. It's really hard for me to do audio books. And critiques of verbal stories. No way! LOL I think this is also part of my thing in that I have to see the words in order to write. I can't talk into a voice recorder like some can, other than to make quick notes to self.

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  4. Thanks so much for stopping by, Lea. I'm hoping to get this out to a lot of writers before the conference season. Understanding what's going on -- and that it's not "just you" having this quirky problem -- I think might help others cope.

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  5. That's so interesting, Laurie.It must be a sort of relief to have it explained even though it's a pain in the neck!

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  6. Thanks, Barbara! It really does help to know it's not just something quirky with me. Now I can go about finding ways to address it. :)

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  7. Wow, Laurie, that must be very difficult to deal with. I just find it increasingly difficult to actually hear in loud places, but the disorder you describe must be very much a handicap in our business. One thing about conversations in bars, though, is that nothing much of real importance is said--or remembered!

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    1. LOL Often true, Donna! But I'd still really like to be able to interact when people attempt to talk to me in restaurants/bars/conferences. It is a definite disadvantage and often embarrassing. I don't know how many times I've been asked (after requesting someone to repeat themselves over and over) "Have you had your hearing checked, lately?" or some of the more snarky remarks like "Should I use sign language?" LOL

      If you get a chance, click on the link I included nearer the bottom about APD in adults. It is sometimes acquired as you get older.

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  8. Big hugs! I had no idea. I don't have ADP, but I do have HPH (hermit prefers home), so won't be at RT or any conference this year. I'm glad you were able to figure out what was happening. It is a relief to accept who you are and where you can function the best.

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    1. Ahahaha, Pauline! Oh, I have HPH, too. Or at least I'm a Serial Homebody. But I do occasionally like to get out and about, and you are so right, this has really helped me understand my issues with the thongs at RWA and RT, et al. I guess I appeared more "normal" than I thought I did if you didn't notice my idiosyncrasies at RT Dallas. :)

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  9. I had no idea such a thing existed. It must be a relief to know it has a name. I avoid loud environments, too - but that's because I'm not too good at socialising. Maybe I'm just another HPH. :)

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  10. I always believed it was just me, Greta. It is a relief to know it's a very real condition and far from a rarity. That knowledge alone will help me address it better in the future. :)

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  11. Interesting. I already know that I'm neurologically atypical just based on the migraine disorder - but sound - especially the wall of 16 voices all at top volume talking over one another can actually trigger migraines. Family gatherings drive me right out of the house to cope with the anxiety attacks because I cannot handle the cacophony. Huh. And I thought I was just anti-social.

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    1. Maybe not, Marcella. Especially if you can't pick out the words of the individuals. After learning about APD, I'm not so sure some of my own tendencies that I chalked up to being an introvert aren't actually driven more by this "sound disorder."

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    2. Holy crap that auditory test was hell. O_o

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    3. Yeah, I'm really curious if anyone got a perfect score. I think it was probably more an illustration of what APD is like, especially for those with non-APD tendencies. I've tried it several times. I can't get it right no matter how hard I try to concentrate on the instructor's voice.

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  12. That must be so frustrating. I do remember you saying at times, "I don't hear very well." But it must also be a relief to have a better understanding of the issue. I can identify with the part about struggling to process verbal information. If someone reads me a sentence and wants me to help them fix it, I have to have them write it down. Also if someone gives me verbal directions, even if it's an area I know, I find it really hard to visualize what they're saying. I've assumed it's because my brain is lazy, or I'm more visually oriented, but who knows!

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    1. Regarding the test - the first time I got 4 right. The second time only 3, ha.

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    2. Those are definitely symptoms of APD! Maybe you have a really mild form, because I don't remember you having any problems conversing in a crowd.

      And yes, I remember well saying how I "just couldn't hear" in crowded situations. Now I know I can hear just fine. It's just that my brain can't interpret what my ears are hearing and it happens both when it's noisy and when the information comes too fast. And yes, I have a hard time grasping verbal directions. I've always done better if I could read instructions, or if the person insists on giving them to me verbally, I need to write them down because otherwise I'll never retain the instructions.

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    3. LOL on the test. I've taken it multiple times. I normally only get one or two pieces right, but one time I managed to get half!

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