Auditory processing

Among the most common problems for autistic and other sensitive people is to have hearing- or auditory processing differences.


Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) (also known as (Central) Auditory Processing Disorder or (C)APD) is an umbrella term for a variety of disorders that affect the way the brain processes auditory information. It is not a sensory (inner ear) hearing impairment; individuals with APD usually have normal peripheral hearing ability.




1. Super-sensitive hearing. Being born with super-acute hearing may be not be a disorder at all but a modest ‘super-power’ – although it can of course be very frazzling on the nerves to hear so much more than others, in a world where perfect silence is practically non-existent. If it comes with general sensitivity to other sensory impressions, it is very likely a sign of just being a Highly Sensitive Individual, which is a natural genetic variation.

“If I was trying to go to sleep and the television in the basement was on, even if the sound was off or no channel was being shown, I’d still be able to hear the high-frequency noise from it all the way from upstairs in my room. I’d go downstairs and turn that TV off, along with a fluorescent light that buzzed for some reason.”

‘NeantHumain’, male Aspie from USA

If hyper-acusis occurs suddenly later in life, it may be an imbalance due to stress, illness, brain injury, ear infection etc., though probably more likely to happen to someone who already has above average sensibility to begin with. Tesla experienced this when stressing himself out at his first real job with the Budapest telephone company:

“What I experienced during the period of the illness surpasses all belief. My sight and hearing were always extraordinary. I could clearly discern objects in the distance when others saw no trace of them. Several times in my boyhood I saved the houses of our neighbors from fire by hearing the faint crackling sounds which did not disturb their sleep, and calling for help. In 1899, when I was past forty and carrying on my experiments in Colorado, I could hear very distinctly thunderclaps at a distance of 550 miles. My ear was thus over thirteen times more sensitive, yet at that time I was, so to speak, stone deaf in comparison with the acuteness of my hearing while under the nervous strain.

“In Budapest I could hear the ticking of a watch with three rooms between me and the timepiece. A fly alighting on a table in the room would cause a dull thud in my ear. A carriage passing at a distance of a few miles fairly shook my whole body. The whistle of a locomotive twenty or thirty miles away made the bench or chair on which I sat, vibrate so strongly that the pain was unbearable. The ground under my feet trembled continuously. I had to support my bed on rubber cushions to get any rest at all. The roaring noises from near and far often produced the effect of spoken words which would have frightened me had I not been able to resolve them into their accumulated components. The sun rays, when periodically intercepted, would cause blows of such force on my brain that they would stun me.”

– Nicola Tesla, Hungarian-American inventor, in his autobiography My Inventions

2. Difficulty filtering out background sounds, e.g. in a class-room, at the cinema, or when having a conversation in a restaurant, party, mall or other public place. Two or more simultaneous conversations at the dinner table may also be a problem. Such a filtering difficulty is not at all strange if one has extra well-developed hearing… Yes, it can really be that simple! I’m sure that if someone with normal hearing would get a hearing aid and turn the volume way up, they too would find it very hard to filter out any of the massive collection of noises bombarding the ears at all times. This is what it’s like to have super-sensitive hearing.

“I find it almost impossible to hear someone speak to me (even if they are right in front of me and are talking loud) when there is a lot of other background noise. I find myself reading their lips to try to ‘hear’ them. I feel like I am the only one with this issue… everyone around me can carry on conversations despite the noise – it seems to have zero impact on them.”

Dan, Aspie

“I have a difficult time concentrating on one person at a party.  It seems that everything filters in from all directions.  I can only focus on one person for a short amount of time before I have to move on because of all the distractions.”

Anne Marie, ADHD/Aspie from USA

“I have trouble filtering out background noise. I cannot stand the ticking of clocks and try to avoid them. Even my radio alarm clock has an annoying buzz which I have reduced by putting a folded towel under it. My computer has a constant noise, mostly a contended noise that I have gotten used to – I recognise it’s different noises, but I cannot filter them out.”

Julie, Aspie from England

3. Difficulty decoding & recollecting verbally delivered information, especially several in a sequence. Difficulty discriminating between similar sounding words. This can be either a real hearing- or auditory processing disability, or simply being a visual-spatial or tactile learner.

“I am a visual learner and find I need to picture a word in my mind in order to understand it. I hear words, but my brain then needs to visualize them in order to process them. I have been regarded as ‘slow’ because of this, but it is just a different way of learning.”

Kitty, Aspie

4. Selective sound sensitivity. Hearing or enjoying only certain frequencies/types of sound, and having problems with others. People with hearing impairment often have such problems.

“I hate talking on the cell phone!! Wrong sound, weird sound… I usually turn it off when it rings and send a text message instead, with the sound turned off! The click-sound drives me crazy, odd but little sounds are worse than loud ones. I love listening to Velvet Underground, Clash, Metallica etc., which get on other people’s nerves?”

Janet, mom with ADHD traits from Sweden

5. Some seem to have super-acute hearing sometimes and appearing almost deaf at other times. (This I find more likely to be a real auditory processing difference, or a fluctuating filtering ability.)

“Sometimes I just don’t hear people when they say something to me, and they take me as being rude.”

NeantHumain’, male Aspie from USA

Though sometimes the easy explanation is that the person is so absorbed by some especially fascinating train of thought or activity of interest that s/he is temporarily oblivious of the rest of the world. If so, this may indicate a super-ability to hyperfocus and/or being in an altered state.

Males (and possibly women with male type brains?) tend to only use one hemisphere at a time when solving a problem or executing a task, so the hemisphere that processes language may just be’ offline’ at that particular moment. To not immediately respond to the voice of a parent, spouse or teacher when engaged in something, need therefore not necessarily be a hearing disorder or being deliberately neglectful or disrespectful; it may just be the way that person is wired.


Auditory Processing Disorder Wikipedia

Probable Causes for Hypersensitivity to Sound from AIT Institute

The Efficacy of Auditory Integration Training review of studies on Berard type AIT

Debbie Thorsos autistic artist with APD



  1. How very interesting! I’m doing some research regarding super-sensitive hearing in those along the autism spectrum and was pleased to find this post. I recently read about a woman with AS who told someone that NPR was airing a program about ‘X.’ while the radio was *off.* When they turned the radio on, NPR was on, and they were discussing that very topic! Of course, I can’t remember the book…

    • Actually, your latter example it not inclined with literal hearing. Humans can actually receive and emit other forms of waves or signals.

  2. Eileen Vicente said,

    There are certain sounds that bother me to a point of insanity. For example, the constant barking of dogs, boom boxes, construction, people picking their teeth, chewing their nails, chewing loudly, and people walking, or jumping over my head in an apartment. It has made a lot of enemies for me, and it has also made my life a hell.

  3. Mo Warren said,

    Yes! Nobody understands this dreadful affliction but those that have to go through this increasingly noisy life constantly ‘on edge’ waiting for the next onslaught. My particlar breaking point comes when construction work is going on in the vicinity- crashing, banging, shouting, grinding & beeping lorries. I moved to a supposedly quiet rural area thirty years ago but in the last ten years, everyone around has had property development in a continuous relay, chain saws are always whining, dogs barking, farmers shooting & children screaming.
    Twice I have attempted to take my own life – maybe third time ‘lucky’
    I too have lost friends through my inescapable intolerance of noise & am cut off from ‘normal’ activities and considered a kill-joy by everyone.
    Ironically I have a deaf partner who doesn’t have any real appreciation of my problem.

    • M. Castillo said,

      I understand what you’re going through.I struggle
      with the same issues but please don’t take your life. Move to a quieter neighborhood if you’re able.

    • Just learn to adjust and adapt Mo. Your “abnormality” is rather helpful than it as an annoyance. Appreciate the silence within the noise.

  4. K said,

    It can be lonely to go through life as a sensitive person in general, but in the case of this article, sensitive to sounds. The challenge I find is to be able to “fit in” without compromising or ignoring own uniqueness in this way. What are the boundaries and habits that should be set to protect oneself while opening possibilities for a full, enjoyable life? Does some of it have something to do with attaching to an identity of being “sensitive” and allowing it to take the best of oneself thereby making it more of a problem that it really is? Or is it wise to fight for one’s difference with certain requests from others, even if it would be more energy-consuming than trying to fit in and be “normal”?

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