The Mighty Logo

Living 'the CAPD Life' With Central Auditory Processing Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

H, hw ae ou? Awsm wthr no?

Imagine this is how you hear people when they speak.

Tdy I’m go t duh sto. I nee pta nd spgheti suz. Wna co wih me?

Do you understand that person? Probably bits and pieces of it. Why is that? Context.

Context is key. When you only hear portions of what’s being said, context helps piece the sentence together. This is what it’s like to have central auditory processing disorder (CAPD).

In simple terms, CAPD is a disorder that affects the ability to understand speech. I use the word “understand” deliberately; you can hear the person just fine, but you can’t comprehend what’s being said. Add inherent hearing loss on top of it, and you’re in deep trouble. It won’t kill you, but it can create constant unforgiving hurdles. It’s hardest to hear in places like cafes, restaurants and anywhere you can’t directly see the person speaking. Being able to see the person leading a conversation usually leads to significantly better comprehension.

Without looking directly at people speaking, I can only understand them 20 percent of the time. CAPD started developing when I was 9; it occurred three years after I got in a water accident that caused noticeable hearing loss. Even after I regained my hearing following a corrective surgery, I still missed out on speech stimuli, which made English harder to learn and understand.

Fast-forward 10 years to the day I sustained a serious traumatic brain injury, and then another six months later. These accidents brought the processing and hearing loss back with a vengeance. When I communicate with people, I have to see their eyebrows rise to realize they’re asking a question. If they blow air in their cheeks, I can tell they’re experiencing stress or fatigue. I cannot hear the intonation in their voices; it sounds neutral to me.

To understand speech today, I need hearing aids and an assistive listening device. Without it, I cry out of frustration after meetings or events, and I just tune out in dinner outings with friends and family. I require the amplification that goes directly to my ears so any speech stimuli are not competing with background information. Additionally, I require subtitles in movie theaters and in class (and sometimes transcriptions) so I can read ahead for context. Fortunately, I am fluent enough in American Sign Language to be able to utilize ASL interpreters in many situations, like at church or business meetings where subtitles aren’t an option.

CAPD is a daily struggle, but it’s also a blessing. I have such a great support network at home, in school and within my medical team. I have another group in which I can integrate, too: the Deaf community. I can take my experience and share it with those who do understand. Today, I can also share with my readers so you too can understand.

Sometimes I annoy those who don’t know me by asking them to repeat what they’ve said. When my music’s too loud, my neighbor in a coffee shop can hear every note. If you have a hard time understanding speech, ask your doctor about CAPD. There are ways to make life easier, and it all starts with a question.

I ho da yu lrnd sumthin frm dis. Thak fr reedin.

Originally published: January 30, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home