What is Auditory Discrimination?

J.S. Metzker Erdemir

Auditory discrimination refers to the brain's ability to organize and make sense of language sounds. Children who have difficulties with this might have trouble understanding and developing language skills because their brains either misinterpret language sounds, or process them too slowly. Often, these children cannot differentiate between similar sounds, or they are unable to recognize language in certain situations.

Children effected by auditory discrimination may have trouble developing language skills.
Children effected by auditory discrimination may have trouble developing language skills.

Language is made up of phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest possible sound in a word, and is not necessarily related to spelling. For example, the word "night" has three phonemes: the "n" sound, the "eye" sound, and the "t" sound. When humans listen to language, their brains organize the different sounds into meaningful chunks that can be interpreted as words. This is called phonological awareness.

Children with auditory disabilities may fall behind classmates in learning how to read.
Children with auditory disabilities may fall behind classmates in learning how to read.

People with auditory discrimination disorders may appear to be deaf or hard of hearing. They might not respond to spoken language if there is background noise, or they might understand sounds incorrectly. Problems with this ability are usually related to the brain rather than to the ear itself. It means the person can hear, but he or she hears things "wrong." A medical professional can diagnose a disorder after tests have shown there are no physical hearing problems.

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Children who have difficulties with auditory discrimination may also have trouble reading.
Children who have difficulties with auditory discrimination may also have trouble reading.

Children with these disabilities often fall behind in school, particularly in reading and spelling, because they lack the phonological awareness needed to make relationships between sounds and the symbols that represent them. Sometimes, they appear to have speech impediments or a stammer because they cannot accurately produce the language sounds they can't hear properly. These children may also be unable to understand a teacher who is not facing them or addressing them directly, or they will have difficulty picking out language sounds if there is any background noise.

Problems relating to auditory discrimination are usually related to the brain, rather than the ears.
Problems relating to auditory discrimination are usually related to the brain, rather than the ears.

The Wepman's Auditory Discrimination Test (WADT) is an assessment tool that is commonly used to diagnose auditory processing disorders in young children. In this test, a child is seated so that she can't see the examiner. The examiner reads a series of minimal pairs, or words that differ by only one phoneme such as "bit/pit" or "ship/sheep." Some of the pairs of words have no differences, and the child is given a score based on how many pairs she correctly identifies as the same or different. Other tests might involve asking a child to repeat words back to an examiner, or say a word back with a sound missing.

Auditory tests are often given to children who attend elementary school.
Auditory tests are often given to children who attend elementary school.

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Discussion Comments

claire24

I'm wondering if my child has a problem with auditory discrimination. Sometimes I think she hears just fine, and sometimes I think she has trouble.

Now that I think about it though, it seems like she often thinks I've said one thing when I've said another. Maybe she is unable to distinguish the difference between the two words. This happens no matter what volume I am speaking at. In fact, she sometimes hears things that I've said at a whisper and I'm shocked, because I'm always thinking that she must have trouble hearing.

I'm definitely going to take her in to get checked out.

upnorth31

I'm assuming this is where the word phonics comes from. Phonics seems to be such an important part of reading that I would think that an auditory discrimination disorder would be a very difficult one to have.

Are there specialists who can help children who have this disorder through out their education?

anon164095

my little boy is eight years old and he has just been seen by a educational psychologist who says he has difficulties with auditory discrimination. he is due to have his hearing tested. will he need a hearing aid? he has delayed speech and a stammer.

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