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“Why don’t you listen?” Paying attention vs. hearing (Peter’s story)

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Peter Jones used to feel better about saying he had a hearing problem rather than considering ADHD. When he was a child in the 90s, adults thought his “listening problem” was because he couldn’t hear. Turns out, Peter does have some trouble hearing lower frequencies, but that didn’t explain his other symptoms.

Now, Peter knows he has ADHD and is not afraid to say it. On this episode, Host Laura Key and Peter discuss what it means when a child is “listening,” and how auditory processing comes into play.

Episode transcript

Peter: I think it was maybe a combination of things that I might have attributed to hearing loss putting more and more pressure on daily life. But like over the course of a few months, I think I started being receptive to the idea that something else could be going on. 

Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood, and as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host. 

I'm here today with Peter Jones. Peter is a UX designer and software architect in New Hampshire. Peter is also a listener who wrote in. Peter, welcome. Thank you for being here and you wrote us the most beautiful email sharing your story. Thank you for that. How are you? 

Peter: Oh, well thank you. Yeah, I'm doing wonderful. Thank you so much for having me. I'm super excited to help where others have helped me. 

Laura: Have you ever shared your story publicly before, or was sending that email kind of a first and reaching out to speak to someone other than, say, a friend or a loved one about it? 

Peter: Yeah, I mean, in that context, absolutely. I don't I haven't shared it very broadly and tend to keep it private until I reach a certain threshold with different relationships. So absolutely, this is very public. 

Laura: Well, I'm honored to be here with you today and to get to learn more about your story. So, how about we start back in high school? So, I think the word you used last we chatted was that you were loosely diagnosed with ADHD in high school. Is that right? 

Peter: Yeah. Loosely diagnosed. I was having some trouble in school. I was getting good grades all the way up through junior high. And then high school stuff started to dip. And I think between myself and my parents, we are trying to figure out what was going on. And yeah, that's when trouble started to brew in this area in hindsight.

Laura: What was everyone noticing? Teachers? Your parents? What was that trouble? 

Peter: It was, at the time, hard to pin. It was focused mostly on hearing and my ability to hear. It's almost funny in hindsight because it had nothing to do with hearing it was me just being in my own head. But at the time, I'd be sitting a foot away from a friend or in the front row of a classroom, and I'd lose interest or get more interested in something I was thinking about, and then pop back into reality and have someone ask if I heard what they said. I would say "No," because I didn't. 

So, that's really, I think, where we started to talk to doctors and hearing tests. We saw a couple of different specialists and there was some related hearing loss. I'll say that. There's like low frequencies I do have a tough time with. But you know, the level — to me at least in hindsight — was trying to grasp at straws. Not like, "Oh, there it is." Absolutely. It was really us more looking for a different solution to what really was happening. 

Laura: It's so interesting. One thing I hear often — either in feedback or just even in looking at how people look up terms on Google, look up questions about what I think they're asking about is ADHD, but they may not know it yet — parents, for instance, will often search something like "My child doesn't listen," right? Which you can easily make the leap to hearing problems, right there. "Paying attention." "Not following directions." "Not listening." 

I think that's really interesting and you're the first guest that I've ever had on who had that experience, where it went so far as "Let's get your hearing tested" and let's see what that's about. 

Peter: Hopefully I can help some other parents or folks who feel like that is what they're experiencing. Just think about it maybe a little bit differently. I certainly see it with my son, who's getting a little bit older. The tendency to want to label it as not hearing or not listening or not paying attention or not focusing on all these sort of baggage statements that I heard growing up. So, I'm hyperconscious of risks in assuming something that actually is not necessarily within my son's control or my control. 

Laura: So, it was discovered that you do have some degree of hearing problems. 

Peter: Yeah. I mean, I haven't had a hearing test since. How much of that is contributing or how much of it is maybe different than what most might experience? The hearing test was interesting. We did it in a closed room. There was almost like a recording studio, I had headphones on. And so it was a very focused experience getting the hearing test, which you can guess I ended up hearing much better than I would have even thought, because that's what I was focused on. There were literally no other distractions. 

And so I walked out being like, "Oh my gosh, they're going to think I'm crazy for saying I have hearing problems because I heard everything perfectly fine." And again, the low frequency came back that I had a little bit of trouble with. And I think, myself and my parents and the doctors all went like "Yep, there it is, low frequencies. So, when you're in the lunchroom, that's low frequency. So, you must be losing people's voice in the din of the lunchroom or classroom." 

During some of those doctor visits — I don't remember the sequence — the physician I was seeing did suggest that I have ADHD, and we considered it. This was in the 90s, and so I think it was maybe the first spike of diagnoses in ADHD. And I think both me and my parents were reluctant to almost adopt that as an identity and just latched on to that. 

Laura: That's what I was going to ask you. It sounds like you knew, even in high school, that while you were having these low-frequency difficulties — so maybe it was affecting some of your listening skills, your hearing skills — but you knew that wasn't the root of the issue for you. Number one is what it sounds like. And, let me just confirm that before I move on. 

Peter: Well, I don't know if I knew, to be honest. Because of the stigma attached in the 90s, from my perspective at least, I was very nervous about being put into this very stereotypical bucket. So, I don't know that I admitted to myself even. I think I also latched on to this. "Yeah, I must be hearing. I have a hearing problem." That was my refrain all through college. "I'm sorry I have a hearing problem, so sometimes I can't hear you even if you're talking straight to me." 

Laura: Did it feel safer to say "I have a hearing problem" than to consider that "I have ADHD?" 

Peter: Yeah, absolutely. I think I was much more willing to latch on. I mean, I was like a freshman, sophomore in high school. I think you're trying to figure out what your identity is. And I think especially when you're that age, you think that, or I thought in retrospect, I thought identity was one dimension. And so, if I'm ADHD, then it means all of these things as well. It means that — I wouldn't say that I thought this specifically at the time, but I think this was my fear — that if I have ADHD, then there's only so much that I can do, or there's only so much success I can have in school and beyond. 

And I'm going to struggle if I have this. And so, I think I was probably desperate to hold on to something else that felt more mechanical, maybe? That felt more like, "Oh yeah, this just gets in my way sometimes," in very simple black and white. 

Laura: Yeah, I hear you. And this is not to say that people in the deaf community, that people who are hard of hearing don't face enormous amounts of stigma and discrimination. It's just an interesting juxtaposition. It reminds me a little bit, Peter, of kind of rather than get evaluated for dyslexia or look into that. Maybe it's because of  lack of awareness or because of stigma. Folks may say, "My child just needs glasses." 

Peter: Yeah, we talked about a hearing aid. That's where it landed. In your comment on the deaf community and the trials that community go through as well. It was more that I was able to have something to prescribe for myself, like, "OK, this is the trouble that I have. And so, now I can tackle the trouble." Since being diagnosed with ADHD and accepting it, I think I had that same, "All right, let's tackle this mentality that I did with. Oh OK, I have a hearing problem, let's tackle that." 

It was just a lot of energy spent in the wrong direction. Meaning that there's a very important clarity and reframing that comes with putting a label on what you're struggling with, whether that's hearing loss or lack thereof of hearing or ADHD in this case. 

Laura: Out of curiosity, Peter did terms like auditory processing disorder or receptive language disorder come up in these evaluations? 

Peter: Yeah, auditory processing disorder. Either that or auditory discrimination was, I believe, the term that was given. 

Laura: Yeah I'm certainly not an expert in that. I believe that auditory discrimination can be a piece of auditory processing disorder. In fact, I can, you know, look it up right now on our site. Yeah, "Auditory discrimination noticing, comparing, and distinguishing between separate sounds." It sounds like that is related to your evaluation and what the doctor had said. 

Peter: Yeah. And it's really hard honestly to, for me, now to say what is what. Because "Inattentive," my particular flavor of ADHD, absolutely can cause — and I understand why in me it causes — an extreme difficulty in very stimulating situations to zero in on a voice and focus on that voice for an extended period of time. And so, it's very likely that I do still have a version of auditory discrimination, but that it's so wrapped up in inattentive ADHD that it's hard to say where one begins and one ends.

Laura: Right, it can be hard to untangle and it's absolutely possible to struggle with both auditory processing — which for those listening who haven't heard that term before, refers to problems and how the brain understands speech — and auditory discrimination is a skill that people with auditory processing issues may struggle with. 

Laura: In your 30s, you did revisit this idea of an ADHD evaluation. So, should we jump to there? 

Peter: So, fast forward from high school into my 30s. Married, have kids. I think this has been on the show common occurrence where, you know, more and more responsibility is being given to you either through work or family. And it's for me, I think, some of the symptoms that can get in the way in your daily life. 

It was easy maybe through my 20s to just have that be a personal lifestyle, almost, where I forget my wallet. And so, I have to drive all the way back home and get my wallet. It's not a big deal to me, but if I have a family in the car with me and that happens, it's a bigger thing. 

Laura: Is it fair to say that as you got older, you started to notice more potential ADHD symptoms that were not completely unrelated to, but maybe adjacent to things like "trouble following directions" or "listening?" And I'm putting that in quotes. 

Peter: Yes, I think it was maybe a combination of things that I might have attributed to hearing loss, but I think I had more of the other symptoms related to inattentive ADHD putting more and more pressure on daily life. But like over the course of a few months, I think I started being receptive to the idea that something else could be going on. It was honestly by a good friend of mine. He and I made a video game together and I happened to be checking his blog. He just happened to have a blog post about his diagnosis of inattentive ADHD, and I never heard inattentive added to ADHD. 

And so, he and I, I think, share many similarities. He's a designer also. He's still in the games industry, very artistic, very creative. And so, reading through his journey to discovering that he had ADHD and what he did about it. His choice to try medication and its positive effect for him, that was very pivotal, honestly, for me. And if he's listening, I thank him. It was just a huge moment for me, so I appreciate it, Kyle. 

Laura: Shout out Kyle! And that's what we're doing right now Peter, honestly. I mean, I was going to ask — and this would be helpful to listeners who maybe are like, "What's going on with me?" — What were some of these inattentive behaviors specifically? 

Peter: The true "aha" was the clarification that at least he made, and that I then followed up and read through, was inattentive being more hyperactivity in your mind and in your imagination. This was like the door that let me in and I was like, "Oh my gosh, yes. All these things, yes." 

Laura: Yeah, I can imagine that would be really powerful. I also notice, Peter, that — and I love this about you — that you're very kind of deliberate, thoughtful speaker. Sometimes, and I say this with love as a person with ADHD, sometimes it's just like, kind of nonstop. There are no breaks. All the information is coming out at once. With you, I wonder if it's the “rrrrrrrrr,” is that in your head right now? And it's coming out very deliberately and in an easy-to-understand way. 

Peter: To be fair, I literally have a note behind this window that says "Stay concise." That's my first thing to remember. And so, I appreciate that, because I don't always feel like it.

Laura: I get it. Yeah, it's surprising to hear how other people perceive us. Right? 

Peter: Yes. Part of maybe the skill set that I've worked on — let's say, since graduating college, really. But then, especially since getting that formal and accepted diagnosis of inattentive ADHD — I think it is again, been very helpful to label it and understand that how I act and am isn't something I need to change or get rid of. But that it's just who I am and how I am prone to behaving, and that there are plenty of things that help me and what I do professionally and help me as a husband and father. 

And then there are going to be some things that make it challenging. And the switch that flipped, it almost made it this very separate part of me that I could then start to understand and observe more, rather than feel like it's something that's part of the whole that I need to chip off. Like it's not going anywhere. So let's observe it, and let me try and understand it. 

Laura: It sounds like clarity is what it sounds like to me. And I say that keeping in mind what you went through as a teenager, right? In that it sounds like, if I have this right, that there's still not really a lot of clarity around whether it's hearing loss or a difficulty with auditory processing, which I want to be really clear, are not the same thing. I'm not an expert on that, but I have learned that from our experts. 

So, it sounds like there was a lot jumbled up in there, a lot of terms, a lot of alphabet soup maybe coming at you without the clarity. And it's obviously, of course, possible that there is something going on there. But the ADHD thing is clarity for you. 

I want to read something that you had in your email that I thought was really beautifully stated.

Peter: I don't remember. 

Laura: OK, but what if I just made it up? "In 1936, I joined the circus..." No I'm just going to make this up. No, I promise, this is from your email. You said, "My initial reluctance to accept the ADHD diagnosis stemmed from a subconscious fear about its professional implications." Number one, can you confirm that that was you who wrote that for our audience? Thank you. 

Peter: Yeah. This is what I will be unpacking, probably for another five years, is why I think that to begin with. But because of my ambition and because of the things that I felt I wanted to do and achieve, I erroneously — to be clear — very incorrectly thought it put a cap on what I could or could not do. In my experience, that is a perception that I think others in a professional sense have as well. And so, I am still cautious. Especially earlier, between the point of realizing that I do indeed have inattentive ADHD and then let's say today, it's been about five years or so. 

I do still have a caution in telling anyone, especially superiors, especially disciplines outside of what I do. I think there is still a stigma attached to ADHD and what that person is or is not capable of that is absolutely incorrect. And it's part of why I feel — when the timing is right, when I have earned that respect from a person that might have those preconceived ideas — that is when I am very open and honest about having it. Because I've done the things to show what I'm capable of. 

Laura: And as a designer, you're interested in ADHD-friendly design, is that right? 

Peter: Yeah, I probably inadvertently. I think early in my career I was creating video games and then I transitioned to really at-face-value, boring software like financial, technology and PDF technology and E-signing. Just stuff that sounds very corporate and dry at face value. 

Laura: Just a quick note, I don't find that corporate and dry at all. In fact, it's a very passionate topic around Design how we develop PDFs that are accessible. There's a lot to unpack there. We won't go into it right now. 

Peter: No. 

Laura: Just wanted to assure you that I don't find that boring at all. 

Peter: Well, that's good. Certainly from a design community perspective, especially early in my career, let's say I wouldn't have thought that I'd be jumping at these kinds of technologies, as opposed to wanting to work at a Google or Facebook — not that there's anything wrong with working at those — but things that are to the public, more exciting, let's say. 

But I've always really liked bringing in what I've learned from video games, which is really just a product whose success is fun, instead of sign-ups. So, taking those principles and then applying them to these very dry topics to see what we can do to actually make them fun and engaging and getting folks into flow within these professional tools and technologies. 

Laura: Well, thank you for reaching out. It was wonderful to hear from you and then to get to actually speak with you now. So, just thank you. 

You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at I'd love to hear from you. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. 

Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently, discover their potential and thrive. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at "ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine! 

Jessamine: Hi everyone. 

Laura: Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, Seth Melnick is our executive producer, and I'm your host, Laura Key. Thanks so much for listening.


  • Laura Key

    is executive director of editorial at Understood and host of the “ADHD Aha!” podcast.

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