How’s the Difference Between Hearing and Listening Sound in ADHD?

Hearing noises are a real issue issue for many folks who have ADHD because their brain isn’t automatically assigning them to categories like say, background noise. The truth is, many sounds for people without ADHD don’t even register as a blip on their radar; even the sound of a jackhammer, off in the distance, can often be filtered almost completely out effortlessly by the subconscious.

But for someone with ADHD, a bird softly chirping outside a window can seem as front and center as a person speaking directly to him or her. Sounds aren’t sorted and assigned to categories automatically. So, the filtering process has to happen with concerted effort and intention, consciously.

This takes a great deal of energy. Often, someone with ADHD, will feel exhausted after attending a lecture or class, because they’ve taxed their brains mentally sorting out what’s being said versus all of the other sounds like tapping pencils, shuffling feet, and squeaky chairs, and even the rustling of papers.

How does this affect the listening process?

For starters, if you’re trying to not pay attention to some sounds, you can miss others. For example, just thinking about the noises you don’t want to hear, by recognizing them and trying to consciously block them, will take attention away from what is being said, the very thing you want to listen to.

Also, if the tone of the speaker or pace of their speech is somehow bothersome, sorting that out is also a chore. With ADHD, the mind is racing at a much faster speed, and the slow delivery of some speakers can become, well…boring. They aren’t able to hold a person with ADHD’s attention even if it’s a topic the person is interested in.

How this affects listening skills is now pretty obvious. If our ears hear and our minds listen, what exactly is the racy mind picking up? Did they catch the tone of the person questioning them? Did the insinuation of that type of remark fly right by them unnoticed? What nuances were missed? Or, what conclusion has their mind jumped to that will create unintentional problems later? Good listening starts with hearing but it ends with proper mental processing of the sounds. How well the mind can interpret what is being said depends on it. With that in mind, what helps the ADHD brain listen?

One suggestion is to engage in some unnoticeable activity, like doodling, during a lecture. While focusing on the drawing, the ADHD brain may become “distracted” by the speaker. The distraction will be what ultimately gets the attention, so in this way, the lecture becomes better attended to and absorbed.

Many little life hacks like this are what I work on with clients of mine in ADHD coaching. While the specific solutions vary depending on the person, the problems are rather universal. Listening can be a problem in ADHD that is going unnoticed because it shows up disguised as miscommunication, or an uncaring, unconcerned, person in denial of their ADHD.

If this sounds familiar to you, help is available. Feel free to comment below or contact me directly.

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