ADHD Listening Problems

Why Listening Can Be a Struggle for People with ADHD

Have you ever found yourself nodding in a conversation only to realize you missed all the key points? 😬 Sound familiar? Now, we know that effective communication goes two-ways: one person talks, the other listens. But what happens when ADHD enters the equation?

For adults and children with ADHD, the struggle to practice listening is a real issue. Our symptoms often make it challenging to give our full attention to the person we're talking to. Have you ever been in the middle of a chat, and suddenly, you realized you've blocked out everything that's been said in the past few minutes? Before you know it, you've missed out on crucial parts of the conversation. 😞

The trouble here is more than just paying attention; it's about how our working memory processes what we've heard. We might hear the words, but turning them into meaningful thoughts? That's where the challenge lies.

So, if you want to be a better listener, whether you're an adult or the parent of a child dealing with ADHD, this article is for you. We'll dive into tips and strategies to improve your listening skills and tackle the common ADHD struggles that make conversations more difficult than they need to be.

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Written by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

Reviewed by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach
In this Article

Reviewed by

Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach
A word from our expert

The Challenge of Listening with ADHD

Listening might seem simple, but when ADHD is in the picture, it becomes a complex challenge. For both adults and children with ADHD, certain traits can significantly impact their ability to listen during conversations. 

Let's break down those that specifically affect our ability to actively listen. 👂


One of the key points to understand about ADHD is the struggle with inattentiveness. You might hear the person talking, but your mind is elsewhere. This lack of focus makes it difficult to process spoken words, affecting your listening skills. For example, children might find it hard to give their full attention to a teacher in class, missing out on essential instructions or information. 🤯


Hyperactivity is another symptom that can interfere with becoming a better listener. Adults and children with ADHD often feel the need to move or fidget, making it hard to stay still and listen. You might notice that you're more focused on other tasks or distractions than the person you're talking to during a conversation.


Have you ever interrupted someone while they were talking? That's impulsivity at play, another ADHD symptom that can disrupt listening. You might hear something that triggers a thought, and before you know it, you've cut off the other person. This affects your listening and can make the other person feel unheard or frustrated. 🤐

Working Memory Issues 

For many people, especially adults with ADHD, working memory can be compromised. You might hear the words, but storing and recalling that information for later? That's where things get tricky. 😬This impacts how well you can respond in a conversation, affecting your role as a listener.

Emotional Sensitivity 

ADHD isn't just about being easily distracted or hyperactive; emotional sensitivity can also play a role. Your emotions can quickly overwhelm you, making it difficult to focus on the conversation - especially if something the speaker has said makes you feel rejected or criticized. 😖This emotional rollercoaster can make you a less effective listener, as you're too wrapped up in your emotions to pay attention to the other person.

Hearing vs Listening Skills

When it comes to ADHD, hearing and listening are affected in different ways. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they serve different functions, especially for those managing ADHD symptoms. Let's delve into the differences. 👇


Hearing is the physiological process where our ears receive sounds. 👂The basic, involuntary action happens when someone talks to us. For example, a child might hear their teacher's voice but not necessarily absorb the instructions. Alternatively, we might hear the dialogue in a movie, but have no idea what’s going on. Hearing is effortless for most people, but when ADHD decides to show up, the next step - listening - can be tough.


Listening is a whole different ball game. It involves hearing the words, processing them, understanding their meaning, and responding appropriately. Listening requires focus, which can be difficult for adults and children with ADHD. You might hear the words in a conversation but struggle to keep track of the key points being made. 

My Experience 

Let me share a personal anecdote to illustrate this point. While I was giving my undivided attention to chores, my mom burst in to tell me about taking out the trash. She was specific, saying one bin ☝️needed to be out before noon and the other could wait. I heard her, but did I listen? Not quite. 😂

I nodded and went back to my tasks. Later, I took out both bins ✌️because I couldn't remember her instructions. While this didn't lead to a catastrophe, you can imagine the potential consequences in a work or school setting. It was a clear example of hearing without listening, a common struggle for those with ADHD.

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The Culprit Behind Our Listening Problems

Understanding the root cause of our listening challenges is crucial, especially when ADHD is in the picture. The developmental aspect of ADHD plays a significant role in shaping our listening skills from childhood to adulthood. Let's break it down. ⬇️

Childhood ADHD and Listening 

To be diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, one key point is that symptoms should have been present before age 12. These symptoms often impact various areas of life, including school performance and social interactions.

It’s been long established by early research that children with ADHD often face challenges in listening comprehension and working memory. These cognitive factors are crucial for maintaining attention during conversations, a key component of effective listening skills.

At this developmental stage, it's essential to establish a strong foundation for listening skills. However, children with ADHD frequently struggle to focus on topics or conversations that don't immediately engage their interest. This struggle with focus can impede the development of vital listening skills, potentially leading to ongoing challenges that can extend into their adult lives.

A recent study involving young adults found that ADHD symptoms, particularly inattention, significantly impact language comprehension and social skills. While inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity were linked to poorer language comprehension, only inattention negatively affected how well young people could socially engage with others. 

Adult ADHD and Listening 

Fast forward to adulthood, and the challenges often remain, sometimes becoming even more complex. According to a recent study, adults with ADHD often struggle with focus and face issues related to working memory and impulsivity. The study found that adults with ADHD required greater listening effort, which could make them more prone to fatigue and irritability. 😤

Issues with working memory can make it hard to remember important details during a conversation. This often leads to the urge to interrupt and take over the discussion, mainly because we're afraid we'll forget what we want to say in reply. As a result, it creates a chaotic listening environment, making it challenging to process information effectively. 🤯

Problems that May Arise From Struggles to Listen

Falling short in our listening skills isn't just a minor hiccup; it can create a ripple effect that touches every aspect of our lives. 

For example, you've probably heard that communication is the cornerstone of any successful relationship. This isn't just true for romantic partnerships; it applies to all personal relationships. When adults with ADHD struggle to listen during a conversation, it can lead to frustration for the other person.

Imagine having a heart-to-heart with a friend going through a tough time. If you're too focused on what you will say next, you might miss the emotional nuances in their words. Over time, this can strain your relationship and make the other person feel neglected and unimportant. 😥

Struggling to listen at work can have negative consequences, too. Now, we know that following instructions is often non-negotiable in the workplace. However, many adults with ADHD struggle to process these crucial directions. 

Let's say you're assigned a significant project - you're in a meeting, and your boss is laying out the game plan. If you miss key points because you're lost in your thoughts or impulsively checking your phone, you risk making poor decisions that could jeopardize the project.

Collaboration is another area where listening is vital. If you can't retain what your colleagues are saying, it can make teamwork a lot more complicated than it needs to be. People may become confused about how to respond to you, leading to misunderstandings and inefficient working.

Another way our listening struggles can set off a chain reaction in our relationships is through frequent interruptions. We've all been there: someone is sharing something important, but we're so eager to jump in that we interrupt them. This 'me-first' approach to conversations can be especially problematic for people with ADHD. Not only does it show a lack of focus on the other person, but it also robs them of the opportunity to express themselves fully.

For example, if you're in a group discussion and someone is sharing a personal story, cutting them off to share your own anecdote can be incredibly frustrating for them. It sends the message that you're more interested in speaking than listening, which can hurt and damage your relationships. Ironically, many of us interject with our own stories to show empathy and let the speaker know they're not alone. However, this gesture often backfires and is misinterpreted as self-centered or impolite behavior. 😬

How To Improve Your Listening Skills

The good news is that by being aware of these pitfalls, we can practice better listening strategies in our personal lives and at work. After all, good communication is a two-way street! 

Let's dive into some actionable tips to boost those listening skills!  ✅

Start with What Interests You

If you're like me, you'll find it easier to focus on things that genuinely interest you. So why not start practicing your listening skills with something you love? Whether it's a podcast about your favorite hobby or a movie you've been dying to see, immerse yourself in it. This is a low-stakes way to practice focusing on what's being said or shown.

Actively Participate in Conversations

Don't just stand there waiting for your turn to talk when you're in a conversation. Engage with the person speaking to you. Nod your head, say 'uh huh,' or give brief words of encouragement. This shows that you're listening and helps you focus on what's being said. Take turns telling your stories, and don't rush through the chat.

Read the Room

Sometimes, it's not just about the words; it's about the whole package. Body language, facial expressions, and even the tone of voice can give you a lot of context. Especially for visual thinkers, picking up these non-verbal cues can be a game-changer in understanding the conversation better.

Take Notes

Don't hesitate to jot down notes ✍🏽 if you're receiving important instructions or information. Whether using good old-fashioned paper and pen or typing it into your phone, writing down what you hear can help you focus and give you something to refer back to later. If something isn't clear, don't hesitate to ask for clarification.

Be Honest About Your Availability

If you're in the middle of a task and can't give your full attention to a conversation, it's okay to say so. Politely explain that you're tied up and offer to catch up later when you can focus on what the other person is saying. This is better than pretending to listen and missing out on essential details.

Wait Your Turn

We've all been there - eager to jump into a conversation with our own thoughts and opinions. But it's crucial to wait for your turn to speak. If you have something urgent to add, use non-verbal cues like raising your hand to signal that you'd like to chime in. This way, you're not interrupting the flow of the conversation.

By incorporating these strategies into your daily life, you'll notice a significant improvement in your ability to engage in meaningful conversations and utilize feedback to improve your communication skills. 💪


In wrapping up, it's crucial to understand the significance of fine-tuning our listening abilities for personal and professional growth. 🌱 Whether it's giving your child's attention the nurturing it needs or excelling in a work task, being present and attentive can make all the difference. It's not just about nodding along - it's about genuinely understanding what's being communicated to us.

For people with ADHD symptoms, this can be a particular challenge. Memory issues can make it tough to retain what's been said, leading to interruptions or misunderstandings. If you struggle in this area, talking to a mental health doctor might be helpful - they can help diagnose the root of the issue and suggest effective strategies for improvement.

So, the next time you find yourself drifting off in a conversation, remember the importance of focusing on the moment. Take notes if you have to, practice active listening, and don't hesitate to ask someone to repeat themselves. After all, good communication is a two-way street, and it starts with being an excellent listener. By addressing these difficulties, you're not just helping yourself; you're also making life easier for those you love.  💕

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ADHD and Listening Problems: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How does ADHD affect talking, listening, and understanding?

ADHD can significantly impact one's ability to maintain focus during conversations, affecting listening and speaking skills. This often leads to challenges in fully understanding what's being said or explained and articulating their thoughts clearly.

Can individuals with ADHD learn to listen?

While ADHD poses challenges, improving your listening skills is possible. Strategies like taking notes during important conversations can be particularly helpful. If you're struggling, it's a good idea to consult a healthcare provider for a comprehensive diagnosis and tailored treatment plan.

How do you listen to someone with ADHD?

When you're listening to someone with ADHD, patience is key. Clear and concise feedback can help them stay engaged in the conversation. For example, if you notice they're having difficulty maintaining focus, be open to taking short breaks or using other strategies to help them re-engage.

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