ADHD and Listening Comprehension

Remedial Schools

What is Listening Comprehension and why is it important?

Listening comprehension is not only hearing the words that were said, but also the ability to understand the meaning of the words that were heard and how to relate to them in some way. (Keyser, 2016)

Good listening comprehension enables children to understand a story read to them, remember it, talk about it and retell it in their own words. Listening comprehension is an important skill to develop at an early age to become a good communicator. There are three different processes in the action of listening comprehension: (Keyser, 2016)

Hearing – The physical act of receiving sound stimulation and sending it to the brain for reception.

Listening – Tuning into a sound, recognizing its importance and interpreting the information in the brain

Attention – The ability to hear and listen to sounds and voices for a sustained period of time.

Problems ADHD children experience with Listening Comprehension

Looking at the three processes in the action of listening comprehension, listening, understanding and staying focused on a task does not come easily to children with ADHD. Your child may be listening to your instructions, only to be distracted by a sound outside the room. If instructions involve several steps, your child may remember only one or two. (ADHD editorial board, 2017)

The specific way in which you give instructions to your child with ADHD is a key factor in determining whether they will comply. Even at an age when most children can work independently, children who have ADHD may still need guidance. (ADHD editorial board, 2017)

Why is the action of listening comprehension such a difficult task for an ADHD child? ADHD represents a deficit in executive function, a skill set that includes attention, impulse control and many more skills, so managing ADHD is never about addressing attention or impulsivity alone. ADHD is seen as a disorder of self-regulation and can impact anything that requires planning and coordination, from sleep and eating habits to plan a long-term school project, all the way to how someone speaks and listens in conversation. (Bertin, 2014)

Executive function coordinates our thoughts, actions and ability to plan. It is responsible for organising and sorting complex information we receive, from paying attention to the right voice in a conversation to organizing responses during a rapidly paced discussion. Extensive ADHD care requires a broad view of the often subtle effects it has on everyday life, addressing its impact wherever it is visible. One of the more commonly overlooked aspects of ADHD is its direct effect on communication and listening comprehension. In ADHD, listening comprehension can be impaired, in particular because of difficulty handling rapidly-spoken language or managing distracting, noisy environments like a party or a busy classroom. Even though the child has no language delays or the capacity to understand, they miss details in both conversation and stories because of ADHD. Paying attention to the theme and valuable information of a conversation or story can become even more problematic for a child with ADHD in groups or when in a noisy environment. These problems in understanding spoken language are often incorrectly labelled as an ‘auditory processing disorder.’ There is nothing wrong with the actual auditory pathway; the information gets in, but the executive function impairments mismanage it. (Bertin, 2014)

How can parents help their ADHD child with listening comprehension?

One of the frustrations for teachers and parents of children with ADHD is getting a child to stop, focus, listen, and understand what is being taught or asked of them. (Barnes, Whiting & Amberson, 2020)

Here are a few tips for parents on how to help with listening comprehension.

Predictable routine: Stick to an established routine in the household and try to use the same words to give directions. When the child knows what to expect they will feel a sense of security and calmness which will increase the child’s listening comprehension. Children with ADHD may need reminders to attend to routine tasks. If the child is old enough, make a checklist to help your child operate independently. Photos or drawings can also be used for those who can’t yet read. (Barnes, Whiting & Amberson, 2020)


Oral, written and repeated directions: Walk through the steps of a task with the child. Stop talking and do not elaborate. Let the child repeat the steps back to you. Write down the task you want done as reference to the child. It can be words or pictures. This continuous reminder of the task at hand keeps your child focused and helps the executive function to develop listening comprehension skills. (Barnes, Whiting & Amberson, 2020)

Single instructions: Break complex tasks into small, simple steps. If the task is an unfamiliar one, demonstrate how it is done. When your child becomes adept at following a one-step command introduce more steps. Give praise or reward for accomplishments and slowly make your commands more complex. (ADHD editorial board, 2017)

Gently redirect when side tracked; If the child gets side tracked before accomplishing the task, repeat the instruction gently by saying “Remember, you’re supposed to………” while removing the distraction or the child from the distraction. (ADHD editorial board, 2017)

Movement and games to remember: Movements like hand gestures, exercises and dance moves help with listening comprehension and memory. Make a game out of chores or play your child’s favourite song and dance while doing tasks. (ADHD editorial board, 2017), (Barnes, Whiting & Amberson, 2020)

Recall: Ask the child what they are watching while watching TV. Ask the child what a person said after a phone call. Never interrupt while they are talking. (Barnes, Whiting & Amberson, 2020)

Silence: Turn off music, video games, or the television to get your child’s full attention when giving instructions. Do not compete with noises. (ADHD editorial board, 2017), (Barnes, Whiting & Amberson, 2020)

Written by Jessica Loots


Keyser, A. (2016). 9 Ideas to Improve Your Child’s Listening Skills. [Electronic version]. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from

ADHD editorial board. (2017). Say It Once. Know They’ll Listen. And Follow. [Electronic version]. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from

Bertin, M. (2014). That’s ADHD again? You Don’t Say! Listen Closely and Hear the Effects of ADHD on Communication. [Electronic version]. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from

Barnes, B., Whiting, G., & Amberson, S. (2020). First, Learn to Listen. Then, Listen to Learn. [Electronic version]. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from