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APD vs ADD: Which Is It?

by Sarah Forrest || 2 Oct 2018

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) can sometimes be mis-diagnosed — even for each other at times. They share a common set of symptoms that can cause confusion, when you are trying to pinpoint the cause of difficulty in a school-aged child.

What’s going on neurologically, however, is completely different. APD is caused by some difficulty in the hearing interpretation center of the brain (rather than actual hearing ability itself). ADD or ADHD issues originate in subpar functioning of the prefrontal cortex.

APD and ADD Symptoms

The overapping symptoms that you may see in both disorders are:

  • Child is “zoned out” at times
  • Child seems to not hear what you have said
  • Child seems forgetful
  • Child finds following directions challenging
  • Child is easily distracted (sounds, sights, etc.)

A few APD symptoms that are NOT shared with ADD, generally, are:

  • Child has past or current speech delay/issues
  • Child struggles to distinguish between similar sounds
  • Child finds rhyming very difficult or impossible
  • Child struggles significantly with any background noise

A few ADD symptoms that are NOT shared with APD, generally, are:

  • Child can’t sit still, even in a quiet environment
  • Child fidgets all the time, even (or perhaps especially) in a quiet space
  • Child has poor self-organization skills
  • Child can’t complete tasks, even without obvious distractions
  • Child has poor impulse control

How to help children with APD or ADD learn to read

We can help, if you’re here because you parent or teach a child with either APD or ADD. Learning to read is a complex brain process, and both disorders can present difficulties for acquiring literacy.

On the one hand, the fact that our language is built of letter = sound patterns makes it hard for kids with auditory processing problems, because of the sound component. On the other hand, the natural difficulty of learning to read requires intensive concentration, which is problematic for kids with attention issues.

We recommend using Trainertext visual phonics, through the Easyread system, for either demographic. The visual phonic characters help the APD brain cope with its weaker auditory integration. And our lessons are always short, just 15-minutes long, which is perfect for the ADD brain’s weaker executive function.

Sarah Forrest is a Program Advisor for David Morgan Education and contributor at She joined DM Ed in Oxford, England after studying Spanish lit at Yale University. She now lives in the sunny south of the United States with her two children, where she coaches parents and children through trainertext visual phonics.