Zoë Blade's notebook

Auditory processing disorder

I only figured out I'm autistic in 2022. I'm still learning. Writing these articles is how I learn things. They're all works in progress, to various extents. No-one can speak for an entire minority group. These are just my personal experiences, things I've found out from talking to my friends, and discussions I've seen on autistic forums. Please don't take me as authoritative. I'm not.

Auditory processing disorder is when, even if you can hear just fine, you often can't tell what people are saying, especially around background noise. The problem isn't with hearing the sounds, it's with translating those sounds into speech.

People often get frustrated with me asking them to repeat themselves, even though my hearing itself is just fine — to the point that even a TV at a low volume will still distract me from a conversation, and that I can only use a cooker's extractor fan or a vacuum cleaner if I can listen to music or field recordings on earphones while doing so, somewhat blocking it out.

It turns out this is a known thing. Quite separate from your ability to physically hear the sounds of speech, your brain then has to convert all that raw information into words. I can hear how many syllables people are saying, and what pitch they're saying them at. But after they've finished speaking, I often need to spend the next few seconds trying to work out from context which words they're most likely to have said... with varying amounts of success, especially if they throw a curveball into the conversation.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that auditory processing disorder, "the dyslexia of sound", was a thing — and a reasonably common trait for autistic people to have.

I'm not sure how auditory processing works, but if I had to guess, I'd imagine this is one of those things that autistic people have to do manually while allistic people have background processes and layers of abstraction that do all the work for them, automatically giving them the simplified end result. That sounds much easier to cope with!


I'm not sure if there are any useful workarounds here. When it comes to films and TV shows, subtitles aren't really an option for me, because I'll compulsively read and count all the text, missing all the cinematography along with pretty much the rest of the visuals. Perhaps others will have more luck than me there.

Lipreading people helps, although it's also less than ideal — quite understandably, autistic people don't always face me, and apparently allistic people think that looking at their mouth is an indication you're into them. No, I'm just trying to work out what you're saying.

Senses: Affective alexithymia | Alexithymia | Auditory processing disorder | Dissociation | Interoceptive hyposensitivity