ADHD and auditory processing disorder: What are the key differences?


Auditory processing disorder (APD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) frequently occur together. Auditory processing disorder screenings and further treatment for APD symptoms may be required for anyone with any learning impairment, developmental diagnosis, or psychiatric condition, including ADHD and autism.

Attention and executive function may be affected by auditory processing impairment. Because one diagnosis might pass for another, effectively diagnosing patients with ADHD and auditory processing disorder symptoms can be problematic.

When APD appears to be another disorder, such as ADHD, a person may be misdiagnosed. Both disorders are highly similar, and addressing the symptoms of one may help with the other. According to a 2017 study, the ADHD medication methylphenidate may help with sensory difficulties associated with ADHD.

Continue reading to discover more about the differences between ADHD and auditory processing disorder, as well as how to diagnose, treat, and manage both disorders.


Sensory input, especially auditory information, may be difficult for people with ADHD to process. Children with ADHD, for example, do not do as well on auditory processing tests, according to a 2017 research. After methylphenidate therapy, they perform comparably to neurotypical youngsters. This shows that auditory processing problems might be a sign of ADHD.

Executive functioning, concentration, and impulse control are all affected by ADHD. People may find it more difficult to interpret sensory input, including noises, as a result of this. In distracting surroundings, it may be difficult or impossible for someone with ADHD to interpret noises or distinguish one sound from another.

Other sensory processing difficulties may also be present in patients with ADHD, according to research. They may have a strong need for sensory stimulation through chewing or be less sensitive to sensory input such as loud noises or bright lights than usual.

Similarly, APD symptoms may resemble those of ADHD. Because a person who cannot accurately perceive sound may look inattentive, this is the case. Their sensory issues might also have an impact on their conduct. According to a 2018 systematic review, children with APD share similar features to children with ADHD, including behaviors and test scores.

It’s also possible for someone to have both ADHD and APD at the same time.

Important differences

ADHD and auditory processing disorder have a lot of similarities. Children with APD had similar learning impairments to children with ADHD, learning disorders, particular language impairment, and dyslexia, according to a 2018 systematic study.

On tests of language, memory, IQ, and attention, they all fare badly. As a result, these tests are unable to discriminate between ADHD and APD. Children may also struggle to concentrate and have behavioral concerns.

The fundamental distinction between ADHD and APD is that persons with APD have more difficulty with tasks that require sound.

They may not be able to complete a work that needs them to listen to an instructor, but they will struggle less with a test that requires them to read. When a person has additional learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, identifying one problem from another becomes much more challenging. Because ADHD and APD frequently co-occur, diagnosing them both can be challenging.

The following are some signs that may help differentiate APD from ADHD:

  • APD makes it more difficult to localize the source of a sound.
  • People with APD may struggle to learn songs.
  • APD can make it difficult for people to understand spoken language or decode complex verbal communications.
  • People with APD may appear to have hearing difficulties, even when they listen attentively.

Auditory processing disorder tests may be used to identify ADHD from APD.


A person with ADHD or auditory processing impairment cannot be diagnosed with a lab test. Clinicians instead depend on symptoms.

Some healthcare practitioners utilize validated scales to achieve an accurate, reliable diagnosis and accurately measure symptoms. The Sensory Processing 3-Dimensions Scale, for example, can reveal sensory processing abnormalities such as auditory processing difficulties.

Sensory and auditory processing impairments are not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The following are the DSM-5 criteria for ADHD:

  • nattentive behaviors: Someone may have difficulty listening, obtaining crucial information from books, or remembering deadlines. They can have trouble keeping track of their job or forget things regularly.
  • Hyperactive behaviors: A person may fidget, find it difficult to sit still, interrupt constantly, or speak excessively.
  • Impulsive behaviors: A person may make hasty judgments, engage in self-destructive behavior, or struggle to regulate their emotions and impulses.

Is it possible to have both conditions?

Both auditory processing disorder and ADHD are plausible diagnoses. According to one of the most widely referenced numbers, 50% of persons with APD also have ADHD. However, it’s worth noting that this figure comes from a 1994 study of only 30 children with APD.

Newer study does not provide a particular incidence rate, but it does reveal that many persons with ADHD have issues with auditory processing.

According to a 2018 systematic review, children with APD and other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD, had similar test scores and behavior. According to a 2017 study, patients with ADHD have a significant risk of auditory processing difficulties. According to the same study, ADHD medications may help with sensory processing difficulties.

Management and treatment

Because the symptoms of APD and ADHD are difficult to discern, healthcare practitioners may choose to treat both. According to a 2017 study, methylphenidate treatment for ADHD can also help with auditory processing issues. Medication is a critical component of ADHD therapy. Other alternatives for therapy include:

  • therapy for an individual or their family
  • training for organization and study skills
  • trigeminal nerve stimulation, which uses low-level electrical activity to stimulate the brain and reduce hyperactivity

The most common treatment for auditory processing disorder is therapy. Speech or occupational therapy are two options for those who want to improve their communication skills. A person generally works on numerous tactics throughout therapy, including:

  • identifying and reducing auditory distractions
  • using auditory training to improve auditory processing ability
  • cultivating other skills to overcome auditory distractions and confusion

The following measures may assist people with both diseases manage their diagnoses:

  • reducing distractions and working in a quiet environment
  • learning about their diagnosis
  • educating others about their diagnosis and needs
  • seeking accommodations at work and school
  • using self-help strategies, such as an organizer, a reminder list by the door, or an accessible calendar of deadlines


The connection between ADHD and APD is bidirectional. Sensory processing difficulties can occur in people with ADHD, whereas individuals with APD may have ADHD or symptoms that are comparable to ADHD.

Even for professionals with significant training, distinguishing one diagnosis from the other might be challenging. Rather of attempting to ascertain whether diagnosis is “correct,” it may be more prudent to concentrate on therapy and management.

Those who suspect they have ADHD, APD, or both should see a doctor or therapist. A multimodal therapy strategy that focuses on relieving symptoms as well as minimizing daily distractions may be beneficial.