What is auditory discrimination?

Last update on Dec, 22, 2023

Auditory discrimination refers to the ability to perceive, compare, distinguish and recognise various sounds through hearing so as to assign a meaning to them.

Why is auditory discrimination important?

Auditory discrimination is characterised as the ability to distinguish the unique features of individual phonemes within a pair. A phoneme is defined as any language sound that differs from others in one or more characteristics known as "traits."

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Auditory discrimination skills

The ability to recognise sounds offers advantages in reading, understanding language, particularly during telephone conversations, and capturing nuances dictated by the tone of voice.

Phonological awareness

Phonological Awareness is one of the most important prerequisites for learning to read and write at the beginning of the literacy process. Also technically defined as a metalinguistic skill, it enables the acquisition of the correspondence between grapheme (letter) and phoneme (sound), working on the composition and decomposition of sounds associated with words.

Phonemic awareness

Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness in which listeners are able to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest mental units of sound.

Phonemic awareness improves word reading skills as well as children's reading comprehension and spelling.

Speech-in-noise perception

Speech-in-noise percepetion is the ability to perceive a relevant voice in a noisy background.

Effective communication is crucial not only for general interactions but also from a performance perspective. Notably, musicians outperform non-musicians in tasks related to perceiving speech in noisy environments.

Weak auditory discrimination: the causes

When one can hear speech but not understand it, it is referred to as auditory discrimination: an established difficulty in hearing a specific, narrow band of frequencies. The cause of the disorder is frequently unknown; however, certain contributing factors may include prematurity, head trauma, chronic otitis, and lead intoxication.

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What tests can be done for auditory discrimination?

When you observe a shift in your hearing ability, it is advisable to seek professional testing. Various tests are available, and the specific type may vary based on the symptoms. For instance, the dichotic listening test is a valuable method for examining cognitive and brain function, involving the presentation of two distinct auditory stimuli through headphones simultaneously. Another beneficial test is the word discrimination test in noise, which evaluates a patient's capacity to comprehend language in noisy settings by presenting two similar words and asking which one they heard.

Strategies and treatments

To treat auditory discrimination disorders, use compensatory strategies and targeted therapies like speech therapy, auditory integration training, and listening therapies designed for hearing deficits.

Phonological games

Phonological games, involving cards, are useful for phoneme discrimination, identification, and practicing acquired phonetic-phonological skills. It's essential to conduct these activities under the guidance of a professional speech therapist. Meanwhile, simple games like bingo or memory, suitable for all ages, can be played at home. These games use minimal pairs, words distinguished by just one sound.

The importance of speech therapy

Speech therapy involves studying, preventing, and treating voice, language, and communication disorders. Speech therapists use specially designed exercises to reeducate and address communicative imbalances.

Auditory discrimination exercises

Exercises aimed at enhancing auditory discrimination include activities focused on sounds and blowing. For instance, blowing out a candle or pushing a ball on a flat surface while blowing against it. Alternatively, you can blow against a cut sheet to create various movements. Another example involves perceiving the sound by feeling the airflow generated by bringing your hand closer to the mouth.

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Auditory discrimination in adult

The ability for a normotypical adult to recognise sounds has numerous positive implications often overlooked:

  • fluent and uninterrupted reading,
  • full comprehension of language,
  • the ability to intercept nuances dictated by the tone of voice.

On the contrary, impairment in auditory discrimination can lead to deficiencies in these contexts, highlighting the importance of ongoing monitoring through specialised assessments.

Auditory discrimination in children

According to electrophysiological studies, children can easily tell the difference between their mother's voice and strangers, showing a natural ability to distinguish sounds. This skill improves with age and literacy, influenced by the social context.

Recognising auditory challenges in children

If a child shows symptoms like:

  • difficulty following verbal directions
  • easy distractibility
  • trouble looking and listening simultaneously
  • sensitivity to loud or sudden noises

it's best to seek medical advice or monitor the condition with specialised tests. It's crucial for children, before starting elementary school, to develop their auditory skills, specifically recognising language sounds. This helps them accurately identify sounds within words and correctly associate them with corresponding letters.

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Early diagnosis and hearing aids

Unfortunately, loss of discrimination is an irreversible process because the parts of the ear that deteriorate over time cannot regenerate; however, one can try to prevent the disorder and do rehabilitation through hearing aids, which play a primary role in the treatment of hearing loss. The devices can help make certain frequencies audible again, while also filtering out background noise, making it easier to understand sounds and words. 


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