Dec 15, 2015 by Lynn Gover

Key Points:

  • Children who are perceived as not paying attention or not trying may actually be tuning out because they are having trouble understanding the words they hear.
  • Children with a family history of dyslexia also have more difficulty with auditory processing.
  • The parts of the brain that handle sensory input develop earlier than those responsible for focus and attention.
  • Early intervention to improve auditory processing can have a significant positive impact on a child’s learning.

The following is a summary of Dr. Marty Burns' webinar “How Do ADD, Dyslexia, and Auditory Processing Disorder Overlap?”. Read below for the key takeaways.

The rise in diagnoses of ADD and ADHD in children over the last couple of decades has been a great cause of concern and controversy for parents and scientists alike. But new research suggests that for many of these children, the symptoms may actually indicate a more fundamental problem with understanding and processing speech.

While attention is closely related to sensory and language processing, they begin in different parts of the brain. Attention is mainly controlled by the frontal lobe, responsible for many of our higher cognitive functions such as planning and organization. This brain region develops slowly, only reaching maturity in the late 20s. And as we might expect, both children and adults with attention deficit disorders show lower levels of frontal lobe activity.

Our sensory processing, however, is concentrated among three lobes in the back of the brain, with an area called the angular gyrus integrating their audio, visual, and spatial information. These brain regions, which develop at a much earlier age, play a major role in language acquisition. And one of the crucial elements is learning to recognize the internal details of words, so that we can distinguish ‘bad’ from ‘pad’ or ‘moon’ from ‘noon’. By hearing speech in one’s native language, our brain eventually builds a map of all the sounds in that language – sounds that we then learn to reproduce and to associate with visual symbols.

Auditory processing disorders occur when there has been some impediment to the development of this mental sound map, making it difficult for children to distinguish units of speech. It’s important to note that this is a distinct problem from hearing impairment, as the problem is not with hearing the sounds, but with understanding them. However, hearing obstruction due to a prolonged ear infection or a cold can lead to auditory processing disorders by disrupting a critical learning period. And such disorders may have a genetic aspect as well. Children with a family history of dyslexia, previously thought to affect only higher levels of language learning, also show lower activity in sensory regions of the brain and difficulty with speech processing even before they learn to read.

Although attention is localized in the frontal lobe, it relies on the sensory networks developed in other brain regions. And this is where attention problems and auditory processing problems overlap. Attention involves learning to sort through all the sensory data around you and pick out what’s relevant. But you can’t recognize something as relevant until it’s part of your knowledge base. So it’s hard to pay attention to speech when you’re having trouble distinguishing its sounds from one another, or from other sounds in the environment.

The result is that children with auditory processing disorders may exhibit symptoms similar to those of attention deficit disorders, such as being easily distracted, not engaging in class, or not following directions. Teachers may perceive them as not trying, not paying attention, or being disruptive when in fact what’s happening is that they try to pay attention but can’t follow what’s being said and eventually give up. Such children may also receive a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, with treatments that fail to address the underlying issues.

The good news, however, is that Fast ForWord provides targeted exercises designed by neuroscientists to remedy auditory processing disorders, which have also proven effective in addressing overlapping problems with attention and language processing.  



We welcome your comments.  Submitted comments will appear as soon as the moderator reviews and approves.


Could you tell us where to

Could you tell us where to find these targeted exercises that treat the underlying cause?

Hi Marty, the product is Fast

Hi Marty, the product is Fast ForWord, you can read about it on our website here: or you can give us a call at 888-816-0010 to learn more.

Also, depending on where you

Also, depending on where you live, your school may be able to provide it to your hold via the resource teacher. Ours is receiving it. We are in British Columbia.

Hi Angie L,

Hi Angie L, My son and I are in Pitt Meadows BC. What are we're you able to obtain it through the school? Was it a public school? Thanks so much, Janet

My son has autism he has a

My son has autism he has a hard time comprehending at school he is 14 .he has a iep but the teachers don't work with him. He is failing am doing the best I can as a mother too help him. I wish someone would help me too teach him. Concerned parent

It doesn't say what state you

It doesn't say what state you live in. But, I believe I would first find out if there are advocates that offer free services to help research the laws in your state. Secondly, look for a autism support group for parents. Then you can compare notes and see what the other parents have done. Also, don't rule out picking up the phone and calling the department of education!! Fight for your child!

Hi Holly, please give us a

Hi Holly, please give us a call at 1-888-750-0116 or email [email protected] Our staff is really knowledgeable and should be able to give you some advice on how to proceed with your son. There are definitely options available to you!


Hello, I am not sure where you live, but there must be help available through school. In Canada, the teacher is responsible to help the child with I.E.P. one-on-one, or a resource teacher should come to the classroom for help. All the best

My son is 15 and is diagnosed

My son is 15 and is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Pdd. I took him out of brick and mortar and placed him back in txva. The support is wonderful and gives you an opportunity to help your child's learning.

If the school is not

If the school is not following your son's IEP then call an IEP meeting and tell them your concerns, if you get no action from that, then call the state special education Dept. But you need to try first and document everything,when the meeting was, who was there, what they said and what has or has not happened. Then call the state, You will get action then!

Holly, I am sure you are

Holly, I am sure you are frustrated but expecting the school to fix the problem is unrealistic. In the U.S, the teacher has a class of about 30 students, one third of whom have an IEP. How do you expect the teacher to spend any appreciable one-on-one time with just your child? What should be done with the other students? What about the other 9 who are also expecting one-on-one time? What about the distractions caused by the students who have problems paying attention? Parents are the primary teachers and the school tries to work with the students who are sent to them. If you are having difficulty working with your son, how difficult do you think it is for the teacher who is trying to teach a room full of students just like him? If he needs individualized attention to learn, then it is not fair to expect him to be successful in a general academic classroom.

Good morning hi I also am a

Good morning hi I also am a parent with an 11 year old son who's Autistic as well he's a 5th grader also receives iep meetings approved time speech therapy and every year goes to summer school and has a counselor through Central Valley Regional Center whom makes a yearly in home visit having a meeting in helping us with making the best choices and decisions in the best interest and well being for our son Sabashtien one of the greatest concerns of ours is that he's still not verbal to communicate so what other options of possibilities may exist and be available to families like ours with these kind of challenges in life I ask please and thank you if you know and or have any information or suggestions that may be beneficial and productive where concerning and regarding this matter being most appreciated and forever grateful thank you God bless always Sincerely! Fermina Navarro

Good message

Good message

Hello, I gave a 9 years old

Hello, I gave a 9 years old son with central auditory processing disorder. He has been tested by the school and doesn't meet qualification for any help. He is struggling big time. We also noted that he has trouble with ? Placing numbers in the right place during math and confusing some letters and number. We live in Vineland, NJ. The school doesn't recognize hid diagnosis as a problem and we don't get any help. Hire can I help him. Thank you!

Hi Zully, thanks for writing

Hi Zully, thanks for writing to us. You can get a free consultation for your child by calling us at 1-888-750-0116 or send an email to [email protected] Through this process we can help you determine if Fast ForWord is a good fit for your child. You can find additional resources and information on our website for parents: Best of luck to you and your child!

If your child recives this

If your child recives this diagnosis, is there a possibility the school system could provide the FastForword program to him?

Hi Liz, absolutely! It's

Hi Liz, absolutely! It's worth mentioning to the school and asking if they would consider using Fast ForWord as a reading intervention. Please contact us through [email protected] if you would like any information that you can pass along to your school.

I’m 32 years old and I have

I’m 32 years old and I have aspergers syndrome . I want to learn a second language but i have a real hard time processing what is being said . Is there any product you guys have that can help me with listing skills . Thank you have a great day .

Hi Michael, Fast ForWord does

Hi Michael, Fast ForWord does help to improve listening skills and processing. I would recommend that you contact one of our Fast ForWord experts to talk about this in more detail. You can reach out to us at 888-750-0116 or through email at [email protected] Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Thanks!

Hello, Our school is

Hello, Our school is presently evaluating a 9 yr old boy who was recently diagnosed with Dyslexia from an outside agency. Additionally he was diagnosed with mild to moderate expressive language disorder and possibly signs of CAPD. Further evals were reccomended which we are doing now including cognitive, academic and an auditory processing screening by the slp. Further they are recc. an outside eval for CAPD. He has passed the screening for auditory processing but clearly has issues with paying attention and missing directions etc. The student shared that when things go to fast (verbal input) in the classroom he gets nervous and confused. Classroom accomodations for him have been put in place. I should add that his mother has been saying to us for two years that she thought he has language issues. He was screened and evaluated by SLP a few years back and did not qualify for services. He was getting RTI insutruction in the classroom for language issues as requested by mother. I am aware that CAPD and ADD have many overlapping characteristics. I have interviewd the child about his attention and he says he has no difficulty paying attention in class but again when things go too fast he gets overwhelmed. Obs. on cog testing with verbal items: talks around topic, speaks in run on sentances with out pause and provides a great deal of unrelated info before getting to the point. At times not able to answer ques correctly bc he goes off topic. Academically he is functioning on grade level and has not ever been brought up to Sped as a child with a suspected disability. I am wondering if you can provide insight for me. Is this CAPD or ADD. Parents have in the past not wanted to do rating scales and do not support add as a diffficulty. I appreciate any guidance you can provide. Beth

Hello Beth, thank you for

Hello Beth, thank you for your comment! I received the following answer from Dr. Martha Burns: "I never want to diagnose a child without seeing them. But, this does fit the description of a temporal auditory processing problem. There is some good older (1998) research by Gail Chermak, Frank Musiek and Jay Hall differentiating (C)APD from ADD. It is not available electronically however I have attached a slide that reviews the research. I also attached two other newer articles. The first, published in (JSHR) the research journal of the American Speech Language Hearing Association discusses the association between APD and dyslexia. The second is a review chapter I wrote for the book Auditory Processing Disorders by Geffner and Swain, Plural Publications that summarizes the research before the JSHR article. But whether or not there is an attentional component, Fast ForWord will be very helpful for this child for the language issues, reading issues and any possible attentional component as well as a possible (C)APD." Please email me at [email protected] to get the attachments that go along with Dr. Burns' comment. Thank you for reaching out to us, please let me know if you have any additional questions.