Auditory processing and reading: the link

auditory processing reading

Auditory processing difficulties are a major factor in reading difficulties. Why?

How are listening and reading linked? Researchers have asked this question more and more over the past decade. Read on to see what they’ve found and watch a 4 minute video interview with Dr Martha Burns.

A pioneer in reading difficulties (Orton, 1937) suggested that auditory or visual perceptual impairments, or both, were at the root of developmental reading disorders. Orton recognized that the impairment was not related to whether these children had normal hearing or vision, but rather in the processing of information through the visual or auditory system.

As far as the brain is concerned, reading is language

Reading experts once believed that reading, spelling and some writing problems resulted primarily from a difficulty in making visual discriminations. It seemed like common sense – you use your eyes to read, therefore the problem must be visual. However, using brain imaging technology known as fMRIs, neuroscientists have shown that the same areas of the brain involved in processing auditory language are in fact involved in reading.

So today it is understood that rather than being a primarily visual task, reading is principally an auditory task. Children with reading problems often have problems recognising and manipulating the underlying sound structures of words (phonological processing) and experience difficulties mapping oral sounds to written language.

auditory processing and reading

What is phonological processing?

School Psychologist Rebecca Branstetter explains: “Phonological processing is the way the brain hears the sounds in words and is able to take them apart and put them back together again. For example, you use [this skill] to hear that the word “Cat” is three different sounds, or when I say three sounds (/c/ /a/ /t/), you can tell me that the word is “Cat.” When you have a “phonological processing deficit,” it can look like a number of other things, such as not hearing the difference between “card” and “cart.” So when a teacher is helping the student look at an unfamiliar word and says, “Sound it out!” it is very difficult because the student doesn’t hear the sounds the same ways as others. It can also be hard to remember which letters make which sounds. This is why it takes students with this problem longer to read.”

Auditory processing

Poor auditory processing skills can lead to poor phonological processing skills. Auditory processing related reading difficulties often linger because these essential cognitive skills are typically not addressed at school. They are deep seated auditory processing disorders that cannot be corrected by word lists and other conventional methods. Click to learn more about symptoms of auditory processing problems.

Video: reading and its relationship to auditory processing

In this 4 minute video, Dr Martha Burns, Speech Pathologist and Neuroscientist, defines dyslexia, discusses the latest neuroscience research on the causes of dyslexia and explains the role of auditory processing and visual processing in reading.



Boets et al. (2011). Preschool impairments in auditory processing and speech perception uniquely predict future reading problems. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(2), p.560.

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