People with auditory processing disorder (APD) have difficulty hearing some sounds. In some cases, APD occurs in people living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health condition that affects how you think, behave, and navigate life. Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors are characteristics.

Auditory processing disorder (APD), also known as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), is a condition that affects the brain’s ability to process auditory information, leading to difficulties in how you hear some sounds.

People with ADHD often experience higher rates of auditory processing challenges. Though APD and ADHD commonly occur together and have similar symptoms, they’re separate conditions.

Though APD can occur at any age, the condition primarily affects children and is common among those with ADHD, dyslexia, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a 2023 report.

Cognitive or language issues do not cause APD. Instead, APD occurs in the central auditory nervous system, where parts of the brain process auditory information and connect with other regions of the brain to help us perceive and understand sounds.

People with APD can have difficulty with memory, hearing in noisy environments, understanding instructions, reading, spelling, and concentrating.

Symptoms of APD in children include:

  • having longer response times when communicating
  • an inability to follow complex commands or directions
  • having poor attention span and is easily distracted
  • having difficulty in localizing sound
  • having difficulty in understanding language in noisy backgrounds or when words are presented rapidly
  • inappropriate or inconsistent responding
  • experiencing reading, spelling, and learning difficulties

Many of these are also symptoms of ADHD. However, though the two disorders commonly occur together and have similar symptoms, they’re different conditions.

The relationship between ADHD and APD isn’t fully understood. Still, the difficulties in attention, memory, planning, and navigating tasks associated with ADHD may contribute to challenges in processing auditory information.

One 2017 study looked at auditory processing difficulties in children with and without ADHD and before and after the children with ADHD were treated with methylphenidate.

The findings show that children with ADHD scored lower than children without ADHD on the following tests:

  • Auditory closure: The brain’s ability to make sense of incomplete auditory stimuli and recognize patterns or complete words or sentences.
  • Binaural integration: The brain’s ability to integrate or combine auditory information received from both ears.
  • Temporal ordering: The brain’s ability to accurately perceive and process the sequential order and timing of auditory stimuli.

However, after a 6-month treatment period with methylphenidate (MPH), the children significantly improved their performance. These findings suggest that MPH treatment can help improve auditory processing difficulties in children with ADHD.

APD and ADHD can lead to difficulties in understanding language, following instructions, and remembering auditory information.

Also, both disorders can affect academic performance, particularly in tasks that require auditory processing, such as reading comprehension or following lectures.

Still, there are essential differences between APD and ADHD.

With APD, people experience difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, distinguishing between similar sounds, or localizing the source of sound.

Those living with ADHD have broader difficulties with attention regulation, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which can affect various aspects of navigating daily life beyond auditory processing.

APD isn’t listed as a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR). Instead, APD symptoms fall under the DSM-5-TR’s diagnostic category of language disorder.

Distinguishing between APD and ADHD requires a comprehensive evaluation by healthcare professionals, such as audiologists, speech-language pathologists, or psychologists.

To determine the underlying cause of listening difficulties, a healthcare professional will assess various factors, including attention, cognition, and language skills, as well as how you process and make sense of auditory information.

An APD assessment may evaluate how you perceive changes in time, structure, frequency, and intensity of sounds and problems with sound localization, speech comprehension in challenging environments, and auditory memory.

Tips to manage APD include:

  • Minimizing background noise: Reduce background noise by using noise-canceling headphones, finding quiet spaces for important conversations, or using sound-absorbing materials in your living or working areas. Sitting closer to the source of sound can also help.
  • Seeking preferential seating: Choose a seat closer to the speaker in classrooms or meetings.
  • Using assistive devices: Consider assistive listening devices, such as frequency modulation (FM).
  • Practicing active listening: Develop active listening skills by focusing your attention, asking for clarification when needed, and using visual cues or gestures to aid comprehension.
  • Breaking down complex information: When receiving complex instructions or information, ask for breaks or break down the information into smaller, manageable parts to improve understanding and retention.

APD and ADHD are distinct conditions that often occurring together, leading to additional challenges in auditory processing and attention. Though these disorders may have overlapping symptoms, it’s essential to recognize and address each condition separately to provide the best intervention and support.

If you think that you might have APD or ADHD, healthcare professionals can help differentiate between these conditions and provide advice on what to do.