A University of New Brunswick student has published her story of growing up with a little-known learning disability that she calls dyslexia for the ears.

"As a small child in elementary school, many people believed me to be a bad kid who did not try, nor care," Robyn Young wrote in the first sentence of a chapter in a new book called, Same Journey, Different Paths: Stories of Auditory Processing Disorder.

 In her writing, Young recalls a childhood of hardship. She outlines difficulties at school and trouble with social interactions, all caused by an undiagnosed learning disability.


Robyn Young has published a chapter about her life with Auditory Processing Disorder in the book, Same Journey, Different Paths: Stories of Auditory Processing Disorder. (CBC)

Now 19 years old, the young woman from Twillingate, N.L., wants to share her struggle with others.

Young suffers from Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), a condition she describes as dyslexia for the ears.

"The problem lies in the processing between the ears and the brain," she said.

"So often times you'll hear something like the cat was brown, and you might hear the bat was brown. An easy mix which sounds simple enough but in long conversations, especially if there's background noise, distractions, it can become very frustrating."

It is estimated that two to three per cent of Canadian children have APD, though they are not the only age group affected.

"Recent research shows it’s even more common in adults and seniors than we thought," says Chantal Kealey, the director of Audiology at the Canadian Association of Speech-language Pathologists and Audiologists.

Finding a diagnosis

She says that getting an APD diagnosis can be a problem.

The initial assessment, which is often done by an audiologist, is only covered in about half of Canadian provinces. 

'It was definitely a relief to know there was a reason why I was having trouble. It wasn't that I was stupid, or that I was lazy, or that I was just no good.' — Robyn Young

And even if it is covered, "it can take months, years, to get to point we’re you’re even referred to audiologist," says Kealey.

Young’s condition was discovered early, however. She was first diagnosed in 2006, while in elementary school.

"It was definitely a relief to know there was a reason why I was having trouble. It wasn't that I was stupid, or that I was lazy, or that I was just no good," she says.

Still, the lack of awareness of the learning disability meant few resources were available.

"It was like, ‘This is a hearing thing, she can't have background noise, you have to speak louder, repeat yourself.’ And that was the accommodation I was given," she says.

"High school did not make things easier. I was coming up with marks like 50s and 60s. I was lucky if I got a 70 here and there, and for a kid who is trying to get into university, it was very stressful."

So she went online to research her condition and found support in the form of a Facebook group.

"It was just a bunch of people who really wanted to bring awareness to a learning disability that many people don't know about," she says.

She brought the information the group was discussing to her guidance counsellor and was then able to formulate a plan to help her graduate.

The group was also what got her writing.

She says the community, which consisted of parents of kids with APD and some of the affected children, decided to join forces to raise awareness.

"It's a collection of stories about people who live or have a loved one with auditory processing disorder," she says of the book. 

Accessibile universities

After a year a St. Thomas University in Fredericton, she has transferred to UNB to complete her degree. She says both universities have provided her with the accommodations she needed to thrive.

At the UNB Student Accessibility Centre, Jody Gorham, the organization’s director, says her team helps students with diagnosed learning disabilities received tailored accommodations.

"The instructors have to understand that this individual may have a really hard time following their lectures and the auditory info they're receiving," she says of any student with APD.

"So we might be putting in place note takers for that individual, they may need to use some assistive [technology] to help them in their work. It would just depend on the individual."

She also helps students transition into the workforce, and says teachers and employers have to better understand these disabilities.

"People have to be more cognizant of the fact that many people in our general [population]

have learning disabilities that are invisible," she says.

"They may require accommodations in order to be successful. But they can be successful."

Shedding light on APD

From an audiology perspective, Kealey says her organization is still working to shed light on the disorder.

"We’ve done a big push to educate not just the public but teachers, educators, and family physicians to have their radar up," she says.

"Many symptoms are the same as ADHD," she cautions, adding that many kids are misdiagnosed.

She says audiologists need to be well-versed in the disability in order to properly evaluate the symptoms.

Once a person is diagnosed, she says strategies can be put in place to help them.

"The smartest people in the world can have APD. The brain just processes things differently and you need to tap into that and go from there," she says.

For Young, this new book is but a stepping stone in her mission.

Next, she's aiming for a master's degree, and then a PhD so she can eventually advocate for those dealing with APD and other learning disabilities.