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About Auditory Processing Disorder
An auditory processing disorder is a type of learning disability. Learning disabilities refer to a number of disorders that may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning.
Learning disabilities result from impairments in one or more processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning. Learning disabilities range in severity and may interfere with the acquisition and use of oral language, reading, written language, and mathematics. Auditory processing disorder is the term used to describe a weakness in the ability to understand and use auditory information. Individuals may have difficulties with auditory discrimination. This includes the ability to notice, compare and distinguish the distinct and separate sounds in words — a skill that is vital for reading. Auditory figure-ground discrimination includes the ability to pick out important sounds from a noisy background. Auditory memory involves the short-term and long-term abilities to recall information presented orally. Auditory sequencing incorporates the ability to understand and recall the order of sounds and words. All of these difficulties may cause problems with writing, spelling, and reading.
Auditory Processing Disorder and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Auditory Processing Disorder
People with an auditory processing disorder may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with an auditory processing disorder will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Auditory Distractions: Assess if there are audible distractions interfering with the employee’s ability to perform the job. Identify specific distractions and explore accommodation ideas such as rearranging or relocating the workspace, hanging sound absorption panels, encouraging non- work- related conversations to take place outside of work area, or allowing telework if appropriate.
- Consider the environment and what is going on in terms of background noises/voices
- Minimize auditory distractions
- Provide Assistive Listening Devices (ALD)
- Allow preferential seating
- Provide written agendas in advance
- Provide materials in alternative formats
- Provide printed minutes
- Provide instructions, communications, etc., in writing as much as possible
- Follow up verbal communications in writing
- Allow the use of recorder/apps
- Allow ample time for responses to oral communications/ questions
- Demonstrate and explain new information and tasks
- Consider the environment and background noise
- Minimize distractions
- Slow the rate of speech
- Simplify or minimize verbal communication/ instructions and follow up in writing
- Allow written communication such as emails, texts, etc.
- Allow ample time to respond to verbal communication/questions
- Encourage employee to question/ repeat back information received
- Be patient
Situations and Solutions:
The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.
An employee with auditory processing disorder, who worked in an open office area, requested a more private work space as an accommodation.
Since no offices were available, she was provided a cubicle on the outskirts of the room, with taller walls that faced the other employees. Sound absorption panels were added to further help reduce the sound.
A paralegal with auditory processing disorder staffed meetings with various attorneys where information was exchanged at a very rapid pace.
Because he became overloaded and had difficulty processing the information completely, he asked to record the meetings. Because the information was confidential, the employee was required to follow a strict policy; the meetings could be taped, but within two days the notes were to be transcribed and the recordings destroyed. The device was kept in a locked drawer.
An administrative assistant with an auditory processing disorder was required to take notes for departmental meetings.
She wanted to improve her note-taking skills. She used a smart pen that records as she writes. A JAN consultant suggested she ask for an agenda as early as possible before the meeting. Using a template/advanced organizer that would include topics to be discussed already listed, she would be able to jot notes in those sections. Using pre-printed names of people in the department in the organizer would allow her to simply put the notes next to the individuals who spoke. The pre-printed information/advanced organizer would allow her to write less, stay better organized, and allow more time to listen.
A college student with auditory processing disorder was trying to learn new languages for a career as a translator.
She has not been successful in grasping the languages orally in order to learn to speak them. Accommodations discussed included extending the time frame for completion of her degree so that she can learn the languages one at a time instead of several at once. Also discussed were ways to improve her ability to “hear” the languages by recoding all class sessions and using variable speed playback in order to process at a slower rate, allowing plenty of time for processing information in class and formulating a response after questions, allowing preferential seating, and looking at ways to minimize auditory distractions in the classroom.
An IT troubleshooter with an auditory processing disorder was having difficulty quickly answering questions posed to him on the phone.
He requested that inquiries be given to him via e-mail instead. The employer agreed for a trial period to see how effective the accommodations would be. After a brief time for his co-workers to adjust to writing the requests instead of picking up the phone, the accommodations were effective. The employer determined the written requests worked well for recordkeeping purposes and required all requests be written from then on.