Auditory discrimination problems

Auditory discrimination training

The responsiveness of auditory discrimination difficulties to training largely depends on their severity. The severity of such weaknesses is affected by the degree and duration of the student’s hearing difficulty or impoverished experience, and the effectiveness of any medical interventions which have been carried out (e.g. fitting of grommets in cases of glue ear). It is generally easier to improve auditory discrimination of four- or five-year olds than of six- or seven-year olds, because the older students will usually have had a longer duration of disturbance in hearing or inadequate language experience, which has deprived the brain of the opportunity to learn the fine differences between speech sounds.

Suggested games and activities for auditory discrimination training are described below:

  • I spy – either conventionally (alliterative) or Rhyming I Spy.
  • Word families – i.e. putting words in to families based on different sound components (e.g. made, paid, glade; flower, flan, flock; trip, grit, crib; tan, fat, sad).
  • Spot the difference – can the student detect the difference between similar sounding words (e.g. town–down, pat–pad, bag–sag, shot–shop)? By inserting some identical pairs in the game (e.g. show–show) you can play an individual or group game which encourages careful listening. If possible, students should try to identify the difference as well as detect it. This can be recorded in advance, which circumvents the problem of students lip-reading the teacher (alternatively, students can face away from the teacher).
  • Computer programs – there are computer programs that provide training in sound and speech recognition and discrimination, such as Fast ForWord.

Teaching the student with auditory discrimination difficulties

As far as the development of literacy is concerned, the principal problem for the student with auditory discrimination difficulties, whatever their cause, is developing phonic skills. Auditory discrimination training will help, but at the same time the teacher should appreciate that the student will still require very careful teaching in phonics. If the student also has good visual memory skills, then there may be an inclination to rely predominantly, or even exclusively, on visual strategies in reading which may give an erroneous impression that the child is reading well. Neglect of the problem at this stage will only exacerbate difficulties that will have to be addressed later in schooling. A well-structured multisensory teaching approach is recommended, with care being taken to ensure that the student is hearing the sounds properly. The student will also require plenty of additional practice in phonics activities to counteract the tendency to be confused by similar sounds. For further information on teaching phonics see Teaching phonics.

Students with auditory discrimination problems may also experience difficulties hearing instructions given by the teacher. Noisy classroom environments will exacerbate this problem. If a student has not heard or understood instructions they may carry out the wrong task, daydream, or interfere with the work of other students, perhaps in the attempt to discover what they should be doing. The teacher should therefore seat the student as close to the front of the class as possible, making sure to check that the student has heard and understood instructions, and monitor the student regularly to ensure that they remain on-task. Snowling and Stackhouse (2006) provide a useful compendium of recommendations on teaching dyslexic students with speech and language difficulties.