Is it Auditory Attention or Auditory Distractibility?

Is it Auditory Attention or Auditory Distractibility?

Auditory DistractionFor those who have been following this series on the multi-system approach to Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), you have learned that APD is indeed a multifaceted disorder. I discussed Auditory Awareness – an ism of the awareness of the presence of sound, demonstrated by the child not responding to sound, its source and its location. We often refer to this as sound localization.

I moved on to cover Auditory Discrimination which is the differentiation between the presence and absence of sound, identification of the location of the sound, and identification of what might be making the sound.

I covered Auditory Hypersensitivity which involves the child being overly sensitive to loud and annoying sounds.

My last article discussed Auditory Extraction which involves identifying the key, important features of auditory messages that carry the meaning of the message.

The next category of auditory processing in this series is what I call Auditory Attention and Distractibility. The reason for the two different names is that auditory attention involves executive functioning and attention factors such as:

  • focusing attention,
  • sustaining attention, and
  • not responding impulsively.

Distractibility involves problems with the auditory system not being able to properly filter out irrelevant noises. All too often people immediately believe that all children with APD have such problems, yet this professional’s research has found that only about 25% of children with APD cannot appropriately filter out background noises.

Attentional Isms – Executive Function

If the problem is with executive functioning and attention, then the treatment involves improving the attention and self-regulation skills of the child along with executive functioning training.

There are a number of computer programs that work on executive functioning such as

Also, there are programs which focus on executive function training such as:

  • Neurofeedback,
  • Biofeedback,
  • LearningRx, and
  • the PACE program.

True Auditory Distractibility

What this professional has found is that many of the internet searches for programs to help children with APD are really programs to help children with executive functioning difficulties. These programs are appropriate only when your child is found to have executive functioning problems.

If, on the other hand, your child is one of the 25% minority of children with APD who really has auditory distractibility and he or she cannot filter out unwanted sound, the systems involved include:

  • the executive functioning system
  • the cognitive system and
  • the auditory system.

This professional has found work in this area is to learn to focus on the relevant message and put no emphasis on the background sounds. Thus, games and activities that require you to focus on sound and the source, location, and person or thing making the sound are useful.

Activities to Tune Out Background Noise

One game many of us have played in the water can be modified at home or outdoors. This is the game we call “Marco – Polo.” The goal is that the child calls out something “Marco” or “ready,” and the other party says “Polo” or makes a sound or plays a recording of a sound. The child has to find the location of the sound and identify what or who made or said the sound. Initially, the child can search and look around and even walk around to find the sound. But, eventually, the child has to locate the source of the sound and what or who made the sound without moving out of place.

Once the child can do this, distracting sounds are added with the distractions varying from softer than the primary sound up to the same loudness as the primary sound and from meaningless noise up to a sound or word similar to the target word (such as the distracting word “Bolo” when the target word is “Polo”).


Lucker, J.R. (2008). What are auditory processing disorders? In, H. Edell, J.R. Lucker, & L.
Alderman. Don’t You Get It? Living With Auditory Learning Disabilities. Wood Dale, IL.: Stoelting Co.

Lucker, J.R. (2013). Auditory hypersensitivity in children with autism spectrum disorder. Focus On Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 20 (10), 1-8.

Lucker, J.R., Doman, A. (2012). Auditory hypersensitivity in children. Autism Science Digest, 4.