Auditory Discrimination Difficulties

What are

Auditory Discrimination Difficulties?


It’s not necessarily that he has not listened, it may be that he was not able to hear!


Sadly, it is not always obvious when a child a has auditory discrimination difficulties. It sometimes takes an astute teacher to recognize that there is a problem. Otherwise, the problem could go unnoticed for years and the child is unnecessarily educationally disadvantaged. 


Caused by a physiological hearing problem, or an auditory perceptual difficulty, auditory discrimination difficulties can result in the child mis-hearing, mis-pronouncing words and being unable to accurately recreate the sound presented to him. This can lead to difficulties with speaking clearly, (he can’t clearly hear what he is hearing or what he is saying, so can’t self correct) and with learning phonics. Consequently his development in listening, speaking, reading and spelling is inhibited. It can also cause the child a lot of unhappiness and frustration. He probably feels he is underachieving and so do his parents. His peers might not be sympathetic. He often becomes disaffected and gives up, either opting out or becoming a behaviour problem.

If caused by a physiological problem, which could be a long term degree of deafness, or could be something less persistent, like glue ear, a physician can often prescribe corrective or compensatory measures to improve the situation.

But sometimes, the problem can be caused by an allergy, like a food intolerance, where the ear canals are affected and the symptoms impede the quality of sound received by the ear. For example, I have known children who have auditory discrimination difficulties who, once diagnosed as intolerant of dairy products, are steered strictly away from all milk, cheese, yogurt, rice
puddings etc. and their hearing improves, their speech becomes clearer, their pronunciation more accurate, and progress acquiring literacy skills accelerates. Unfortunately, these children often love the food that gives the allergy, but if this is what is causing the problem, then the answer is sadly, but blatantly clear!

The great news is that clearly undertaken action plans can result in a vast improvement for the child’s hearing and speech, whether the original difficulty was a physiological hearing deficiency or an auditory perceptual difficulty. The child not only achieves better hearing and clearer speaking, but he has a better facility to help with all areas of his literacy development and with his overall confidence.


Helping a child with

Auditory Discrimination Difficulties


1) Seek medical advise to ascertain if the problem is physiological, (e.g. a prescribed physical deafness) or the result of a food intolerance.

2) Sometimes, after medical investigation, the physician says, “I can find no physiological cause for these symptoms!” That does not mean the hearing deficiency is imagined for it could be caused by an auditory perceptual difficulty…the way the brain interprets the sound “heard”.

3) Whatever the case, take compensatory measures straight away, as there is no time to lose…,BUT make sure that any help given is not only prescriptive, but is also done in a relaxed and fun way. The child must feel no anxiety whatsoever, or other problems could
occur, sometimes severe, like stammering or, in one severe case I know of, when the child became an elective mute.

4) Have fun with sounds. List the sounds the child has difficulty with, but don’t just work on these. Work on the sounds he does well too, so that there are lots of opportunities to praise for correct sound copying. Play games making and copying sounds, singing sounds,  putting sounds to rhythms. Once he has mastered a
difficult sound, find a similar one to work on and then add it to the one he has just mastered so stringing sounds together. Make the sounds up against the child’s skin, like on his forearm or back of his hand. Let the child watch your face carefully to see how you make a sound or word and give him a mirror to help him copy your mouth shape as he tries for himself. If the child  has difficulty with a breath sound, have a feather to show him how the air should come out. If he can hear a recording of his successes that is wonderful, as he then knows for himself how well he is doing. If available, professional advice from a speech therapist could be of enormous  help. The more fun it is, the quicker the

5) In the classroom, the teacher must make sure the child can see the face of the speaker, and teachers should avoid standing with their back to the light as this causes the child to see a silhouette and not a clear image of the mouth.

6) Importance should be given to encourage everyone to project their voices clearly and, in question and answer sessions, the teacher should clearly repeat the answer of the quieter voiced child, so that the child with impaired hearing can hear the answer too. Too many teachers approach the soft voiced child so they
themselves can hear, forgetting that children further across the room won’t have been able to do so..another wasted opportunity for learning!

7) Any visual images help the hearing impaired child as he can take clues from charts and pictures and illustrations as well as from the teacher’s own body language. (In a social situation, teachers of hearing impaired children, will use a lot of body movement
when talking to each other! It has become a habit they have developed in the classroom, which they then take with them outside school!)

The philosophy should be, work towards small achievable goals, make the work fun so there is no stress whatsoever and give lots and lots of praise for any progress, however small. 


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