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It is common knowledge that there is an alphabet soup of executive function disorders. Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, ODD, OCD, ADHD, bi-polar and more all have symptoms in common.There is one more disorder, which is not well-recognized, that is called CAPD (central auditory processing disorder).

CAPD is quite elusive. Its’ symptoms can mimic those of ADHD. However, CAPD can only be accurately diagnosed by an audiologist. It is not a hearing disorder per se. Children who have this disorder have normal hearing.

The problem is that a child with CAPD does not correctly process what she hears. Something gets lost in the translation, so to speak. Sounds uncomplicated, right?

Symptoms of CAPD
This is not a simple issue. A child with CAPD can exhibit any (or all) of the following symptoms:

  • behavior problems,
  • learning and education problems,
  • distractibility,
  • inability to make timely responses to questions
  • and trouble following directions.

Not only do children with CAPD experience these behavioral symptoms, but because the child is either not understood or has trouble understanding others, she may become socially withdrawn and develop social-emotional-behavioral problems.

Looks Like ADHD
Take a good look at the list of symptoms associated with ADHD in the DSM.  Without having further information, the obvious diagnosis is ADHD. Here’s the distinction.

Children with ADHD can understand and interpret auditory information. They just get distracted and can’t stay on task. Or they take in too much information and can’t filter out the unnecessary.

Children with CAPD don’t comprehend and appropriately process auditory information. The overt presentation is the same. Tasks aren’t performed, behavior is affected, and education goals are not met. Self esteem is affected, and the CAPD child can act out with opposition, defiance or aggression.

I do want to mention that some researchers and therapists believe that CAPD is part of ADHD and that some children with ADHD don’t interpret auditory information. However, there is a distinction here as well.

For children with typical CAPD, they truly don’t understand auditory information.

For children with ADHD, the problem seems to lie in the misinterpretation of content. It’s not that they don’t hear and process correctly; it is that they misjudge what the information is meant to convey.

Diagnostic Errors
Diagnosing ADHD and CAPD is a little bit of a conundrum. Because the behavioral presentation is similar, one can easily be mistaken for the other. I also wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they can co-exist. However, it is important to try to separate the disorders so that treatment is specific and effective.

Children with CAPD do best when assistive devices are used. FM systems, digital recorders and similar electronics give these children the opportunity to take their time in digesting and understanding what is said. Visual cues are also helpful. Keeping the environment free of distractions, especially noise, provides a better situation for learning.

Finding the Origin 
Children with CAPD and children with ADHD both have processing problems. However, the origin of the problem is very different. If your child has CAPD instead of ADHD and it is treated appropriately, many of the ADHD-like behaviors can be eliminated. That makes for a compelling reason to get an accurate diagnosis.