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How are Auditory Processing Disorder and ADHD linked

How are Auditory Processing Disorder and ADHD linked?

March 20, 2023

What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

APD is different from hearing loss. Auditory processing disorder, or APD, is characterised by difficulty understanding speech. Although these individuals can hear sounds just fine, they have trouble interpreting and understanding what is being said. It’s a neurological condition that affects how the brain processes sound, not an issue with hearing. This can lead to difficulties with understanding speech (especially in noisy environments), following directions, and telling the difference between individual sounds.

Auditory Processing Disorder and ADHD - watercolour painting of a child in a classroom struggling to understand what is being said by the teacher

People of all ages can have APD, although it is more commonly diagnosed in children.

Common signs of an auditory processing disorder include difficulty following directions, poor listening skills, poor attention span, and difficulty retaining information.

What is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common behavioral problem that affects millions of children, adolescents and adults. Those with ADHD struggle with inattention, impulsivity and/or hyperactivity.

People with ADHD find it difficult to plan and organise, pay attention, remember details, start and finish tasks, manage time, complete paperwork, and follow through on commitments. Of course, specific challenges and the severity of challenges will vary from person to person.

As you can see, APD and ADHD are quite different, with APD specifically linked to sound discrimination and ADHD being linked to attentional issues generally. But is there a link between the two?

How are Auditory Processing Disorder and ADHD linked?

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) share some common symptoms such as difficulty paying attention, following directions, and staying organised. Of course, many conditions share symptoms, yet are unrelated.

However, research studies indicate that there is a link between APD and ADHD, or at least a correlation. Children with ADHD are more likely to exhibit symptoms of APD than those without ADHD. A study published in 2017 showed that children with ADHD do not perform as well as neurotypical children on auditory processing tests.

People with ADHD may struggle with processing sounds and may have difficulty distinguishing between sounds in distracting environments, such as when a lot of people are talking. They may also have sensory processing issues, leading to sensory overload from things like touch, loud noises or even strong flavours. Thus, many people with ADHD also struggle in noisy environments, just as those with APD do.

Auditory processing issues may be an ADHD symptom, and symptoms of APD may mimic those of ADHD. Additionally, a person may have both ADHD and APD at the same time.

How are Auditory Processing Disorder and ADHD Different?

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) and ADHD share some similarities in their symptoms, but they are different conditions.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects executive functions such as attention, impulse control, and working memory. People with ADHD may struggle with auditory processing due to their difficulties with attention and concentration, but it is not a defining characteristic of the condition.

On the other hand, APD is a disorder that specifically affects how the brain processes and interprets auditory information. People with APD may have difficulty understanding spoken language, following directions, and distinguishing between similar sounds. APD is not related to attention or executive functioning, although some of the symptoms may overlap with those of ADHD.

Auditory Processing Disorder and ADHD

It is possible for a person to have both ADHD and APD, and in some cases, the symptoms of both conditions may be difficult to distinguish. A proper diagnosis by a qualified healthcare professional can help differentiate between the two conditions and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Online auditory processing disorder test

People aged 5 and above who meet the eligiblity requirements can enrol in our online auditory processing disorder test.
You need an iPad to complete this test at home.
The test is research validated and results are evaluated by professionals.

ADHD screening assessment for adults

People aged 18 and above can take our short ADHD screening assessment.
While not a diagnostic tool, it can help you decide if you need a diagnosis from a health professional.

Treatment Options for Auditory Processing Disorders and ADHD

Once you or your child has been diagnosed with ADHD or APD, there are treatment options available to help manage symptoms.

It is essential to identify whether someone has either one or both conditions since it can help tailor treatment plans better. Treatment for APD includes using educational technology, or environmental modifications to improve sound quality in the classroom or home setting. Meanwhile, medications like stimulants are commonly prescribed for individuals with ADHD to manage their attention deficits effectively, however there are non-pharmaceutical treatment options. 

Treatment for APD

After Auditory Processing Disorder has been identified, most treatment focuses on helping you cope with the problem. Strategies include:

Compensating for the problem by changing the way you receive and access information.

  • Some examples include:
  • breaking up instructions
  • checking for understanding
  • providing visual aids.

Changing the environment to make listening easier.

  • Some examples include moving closer to the speaker (for example, sitting closer to the front at a seminar)
  • reducing noise and echo,
  • amplifying the speaker’s voice.

While these coping strategies will make listening and learning a little easier, they will not fix the auditory processing problem – in fact, they’re a bandaid. What will target the cause of auditory processing disorder?

To target the cause of auditory processing disorder in adults, treatment must include this often missing step: skill building – training the brain to process sound correctly and quickly.

How to help students with learning disabilities - self monitoring

To do this, it requires actively training the brain to process sounds quickly and accuracy, to pay attention when processing auditory information, and to remember that information. To achieve this, we use Fast ForWord, a program that’s proven to improve many areas of auditory processing. Fast ForWord is designed to change the brain, re-wiring it for listening, attention and memory.

Treatment for ADHD

Traditionally, attention deficit treatment recommendations have focused on medication to increase the brain chemicals that are necessary for sustaining focused attention. The trouble with only medicating for attentional difficulties is that the student will forever be reliant on the medication in order to pay attention. In fact, any person that used ADHD medications will have greater concentration and focus – whether or not they have ADHD.

However, many health professionals now agree that attention training is an important part of intervention for attention difficulties. Changing the brain can’t be done overnight, but it absolutely can be done. Improving attention takes daily practice, individualised instruction and engaging exercises to create significant and lasting improvements.

To improve attention or help with attention deficit disorder, we need to target the cause of attention problems with a three pronged approach which includes skill building strategies.

fast forword cogmed executive functioning skills

Fortunately there are online programs that can help you improve attention in an easy and fun way. Sonic Learning’s team of health and education professionals has been successfully using proven neuroscience programs (Fast ForWord and Cogmed) since 2004 to improve attention. And younger students from 3 years of age can now access the EF Kids program.

Talk to Sonic Learning about Auditory Processing Disorders and ADHD

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are different conditions, they share some similar symptoms. Treatment options for APD and ADHD exist, and we can help you utilise them. With the right treatment, individuals with either condition can overcome their challenges and thrive. Contact Sonic Learning for a free phone consultation to discuss how our online programs can help.


  • Ghanizadeh A. Sensory processing problems in children with ADHD, a systematic review. Psychiatry Investig. 2011 Jun;8(2):89-94. doi: 10.4306/pi.2011.8.2.89. Epub 2010 Nov 20. PMID: 21852983; PMCID: PMC3149116.
  • Lanzetta-Valdo BP, Oliveira GA, Ferreira JT, Palacios EM. Auditory Processing Assessment in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: An Open Study Examining Methylphenidate Effects. Int Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2017 Jan;21(1):72-78. doi: 10.1055/s-0036-1572526. Epub 2016 Mar 31. PMID: 28050211; PMCID: PMC5205523.

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Find out how to best help an adult or a student with APD, how to understand APD test results, and how Fast ForWord can help.

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Easy, cost-effective auditory processing test for people aged 5 and above. Research validated and evaluated by speech pathologists and audiologists.

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