15 March 2021

ADD or APD? Understanding the difference

ADD or APD? Understanding the difference

You think your child might have an attention deficit disorder (ADD). All the symptoms seem to point in that direction, but caution is needed because it could be an auditory processing disorder (APD) instead. In both cases, symptoms are very similar, but treatment or the way to deal with each is completely different. It’s one thing for a child to hear sounds but another for him or her to process them, which is why the way a child recognizes and understand speech also needs to be considered. APD affects the way a person hears and processes the sounds around them. This can lead to a string of problems, such as behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and difficulty managing moods and emotions. 

APD is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD. The following symptoms are the ones most observed:  

  • having speech-language delays 
  • having difficulty hearing speech when there’s ambient noise
  • mixing up or mishearing certain words
  • being easily distracted or daydreaming
  • having learning disabilities or academic difficulties
  • struggling with a phonetic approach to reading
  • having serious difficulties with spelling
  • being disturbed by ambient noise
  • having frequent ear infections

To assess a child for APD and confirm a diagnosis, a multidisciplinary approach is needed. This assessment can be done once the child turns 6 and usually has three steps:

  • An evaluation must be done by an audiologist to get the initial diagnosis. 
  • The audiologist’s diagnosis has to be confirmed by an assessment of the child’s cognitive and academic abilities. A psychologist or a neuropsychologist will do this evaluation in order to eliminate similar disorders or any other possible diagnosis.
  • A speech therapist needs to confirm whether the child can make sense of what he or she hears.

Like many learning disorders, APD has no cure. However, there are strategies and tools that can minimize its negative impact. 

Here are some suggestions, mostly for educators. Teachers who are aware that one of their students has APD can do the following:

  • amplify their voice by using a microphone as much as possible 
  • place the child close to them, and make sure to catch the child’s attention before speaking to him or her 
  • give the student a quiet place to work
  • check the student’s comprehension often 
  • repeat important notions and deadlines regularly to the student
  • offer the student the use of available tools that have proven effective in a school setting, such as earmuffs, a tablet, or a laptop

Using these accommodations and strategies will help the student process sounds and understand speech as well as keep him or her from falling too much behind academically. If possible, the child should also be seen by a speech therapist and a special education teacher on a regular basis.