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What Is Auditory Processing Disorder and How Is It Different From ADHD?

Auditory processing disorder, also called central auditory processing disorder, is characterized by an inability to process, interpret, and retain what a person hears. Children with auditory processing disorder may struggle to understand speech in noisy environments, mix up similar speech sounds, fail to follow directions, and misunderstand verbal instruction in the classroom, which leads to difficulty in task completion both at home and at school.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities lists four types of auditory skills needed for a child to properly process what he or she hears:

1. Auditory discrimination is the ability to notice, compare, and distinguish the distinct and separate sounds in words. If a child has difficulty with auditory discrimination, he or she may confuse similar words like seventy and seventeen, have trouble learning to read, and be unable to follow directions even when the child appears to be paying attention.

2. Auditory figure-ground discrimination is the ability to pick out important sounds from a noisy background. A child who struggles with auditory figure-ground discrimination may be unable to filter background conversations and noises to focus on what is important. For example, a child may miss lessons in class if he or she can not filter extraneous background noise in the classroom.

3. Auditory Memory is the ability to recall what is heard after a period of time and includes both short-term and long-term memory. Difficulties associated with auditory memory may include remembering people’s names, memorizing telephone numbers, following multi-step directions, and recalling stories or songs.

4. Auditory sequencing is the ability to understand and recall the order of words. Difficulties with auditory sequencing may include confusing numbers like 93 for 39 and confusing lists and sequences. For example, a child with  auditory sequencing problems may not be able to complete a series of tasks in the right order. He or she may fail to be able to do so even when appearing to have heard and understood the directions.

At first glance, a child with symptoms of auditory processing disorder may be thought to have ADHD since he or she may appear to be inattentive. In addition, the outward frustration exhibited by a child with auditory processing disorder may be mistaken for impulsive or oppositional behavior. We encourage parents to closely observe a child's struggles and difficulties in various settings to ensure he or she receives proper support. Click here to read more about childhood disorders with symptoms that are commonly mistaken for ADHD.

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