little boy talking

Auditory Processing Skills and Why it is Important

The ability to identify, interpret, and analyze spoken language is known as auditory processing. It is the process by which the brain detects and interprets sound. Following a teacher’s directions and successfully communicating with peers are two tasks in the classroom that require strong auditory processing skills.

Auditory processing abilities develop in a four-step hierarchy, although they all work together and are necessary for everyday listening. Although experts disagree on the exact order in which abilities should be learned, they generally agree on the skills that are required for successful auditory processing.

The Importance of Auditory Processing Skills for Following Directions

Children with high auditory processing abilities can respond to a teacher’s guidance or request quickly and properly. Children with poor auditory processing abilities frequently rely on others’ visual clues to assist them guess what to do or how to act. (For example, gazing at a friend’s worksheet to see how another child completes the work or watching other children go to their cubbies and begin putting on their jackets are examples of visual hints.)

They may appear perplexed or distracted while they hunt for visual signals, and their replies to verbal commands are frequently delayed.

After a few weeks in school, it is common for classmates to recognize a friend’s deficit and begin to repeat the teacher’s direction for the struggling child or help guide him in the right direction. This may temporary hide a child’s weak auditory processing skills, but the child’s confidence in the classroom will diminish when he consistently feels lost and confused.

Importance of Auditory Processing Skills for Smooth Social Interactions

A child with strong auditory processing skills can immediately and accurately process a classmate’s words and respond appropriately.

A child with weak auditory processing skills frequently misunderstands a classmate’s verbal cues and often responds inappropriately. When this happens, both children are likely confused and unable to engage in a meaningful social interaction. Over time, a child with weak auditory processing skills will feel isolated from his peers as he repeatedly misunderstands other children’s questions, comments, and invitations.

Difference between Strong Auditory Processing Skills and Lucky Guessing

It is common for young children with slightly undeveloped auditory processing skills to hear only one or two key words in a sentence and infer meaning from those words. As an example, you may say the sentence, “It’s time to go to bed so let’s go to your room and get ready.” A young child may only be able to discern the word “bed” in that sentence – and he may walk to his bedroom.

While the child in this example was successful in completing the desired task of going to his bedroom, he will not always get so lucky with his guesses. This is especially true as your (and his teacher’s) directions become more complicated. For example, what if you had said, “Since you already made your bed, let’s get ready to leave.” Unless your child is able to hear and accurately process all of the spoken words in a sentence, lucky guessing will rarely fully mask an auditory processing deficit.

Difference between Weak Auditory Processing Skills and Bad Habits

Not all children who do not follow directions have undeveloped auditory processing skills. In many cases, what appears to be weak auditory processing skills is simply a child’s bad habit of ignoring a teacher’s or parent’s directions.

When this habit emerges, an unfortunate cycle can result. First, for whatever reason, a child stops consistently listening to his parents. To compensate, parents begin repeating their requests over and over until the child eventually listens. Finally, the child learns that he will have many opportunities to hear the request and begins to intentionally tune out his parents’ comments.

Stops listening. Parents repeat requests. No motivation for listening.

Tips for Accelerating Your Child’s Auditory Processing Skill Development

To help accelerate your child’s auditory processing skill development (or if your child is already in the habit of not listening the first time he is asked to do something), consider the following:

  1. Begin with a simple, one-step direction. For example, “Brian, lights off, please.” By using as few words as possible, your child will be more likely to focus on each word spoken rather than ignore the entire sentence or only focus on a single word within the sentence. Make sure your child has an unobstructed view of your face and is not distracted by the television, others around him, or an activity.
  2. State a reasonable one-sentence consequence that will take place if your child ignores you.
  3. Follow through with the consequence if your child ignores you.

Basic 3-step process: 1. Give one-step directions; 2. State a reasonable consequence; 3. Follow through with consequence
If you have tried this basic 3-step process a number of times over a period of a few days and your child is still having difficulty following your directions, try these additional tips:

  1. Ask your child to repeat the direction after you say it. When your child learns that he will be asked to repeat the direction, he will need to pay attention as you are speaking so he can accurately repeat your words. Also, if he incorrectly repeats your direction, you will have an opportunity to clarify your direction before he attempts to complete the direction.
  2. If your child is unable to complete the task even after repeating the direction aloud, give your child a hint rather than repeating the direction. For example, if you ask him to make his bed and (after repeating the direction correctly) comes out of his bedroom a minute later saying he forgot the direction, try jogging his memory with a question like, “Were you going to do something with your sheets and pillow?”
  3. If your child is still unable to complete the task even after receiving several hints, follow through on the reasonable consequence you outlined at the beginning of the activity. Do not allow your child to repeatedly turn your directions into lengthy games of “Just give me one more hint.” By following through with the consequence outlined at the beginning, your child will eventually learn that he needs to listen to your directions.

Read also: 11 Parenting Tips To Support Your Child’s Learning At Home

If your child’s listening skills do not improve over the course of several weeks, or if any other concerns persist, please check with a medical professional to be assured that your child’s hearing is normal.

What is Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)?

Children with auditory processing disorder frequently have trouble understanding and interpreting what they hear. They can pay attention to clear, loud speech and still receive a jumbled, perplexing message. This can result in a variety of social and academic difficulties.

If your child has APD, he or she may struggle to comprehend:

  • People conversing in a noisy environment
  • Similar sounding words
  • Spoken instructions
  • Persons with strong accents or quick talkers

Children with APD may have a wide range of listening and related issues. They may have trouble understanding speech in noisy situations, following directions, and discriminating (or distinguishing) similar-sounding speech sounds, for example. They frequently seek for clarification or repetition. Spelling, reading, and processing material delivered verbally in the classroom may be difficult for children with APD in school.

Read also: Inventive Spelling Can Help Children Become Confident Writers

Learn More About What Will Be Expected of Your Child in School

Auditory processing skills are utilized in the classroom on a daily basis, constantly being tested and honed. When children begin preschool, they are expected to follow two-step commands (such as, “put on your jacket and line up by the door”) and understand verbal directions from their teachers and peers. By kindergarten, children are expected to have honed their auditory processing skills to the point where they can follow multi-step directions and mediate disagreements with their classmates without a teacher’s assistance.


Sadie is a freelance writer documenting the adventures of downsizing from the family home in the suburbs to a mountain cottage in the woods. She share the downsizing details, scoutings of the mountain locations, and her never-ending search for the perfect T-shaped clothesline.

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