By Susie S. Loraine, MA, CCC-SLP

The term auditory processing refers to how the brain perceives and interprets sound information. Several skills determine auditory processing ability—or listening success. They develop in a general four-step hierarchy, but all work together and are essential for daily listening. Although researchers do not agree on the exact hierarchy of skills, they generally agree on what skills are essential for auditory processing success (Cochlear Americas, 2009; Johnson et al., 1997; Nevins & Garber, 2006; Roeser & Downs, 2004; Stredler-Brown & Johnson, 2004).

Step 1: Auditory Awareness

  • Auditory Awareness – the ability to detect sound
  • Sound Location – the ability to locate the sound source
  • Auditory Attention/Auditory Figure-Ground – the ability to attend to important auditory information including attending in the midst of competing background noise

Step 2: Auditory Discrimination

  • Auditory Discrimination of Environmental Sounds – the ability to detect differences between sounds in the environment
  • Auditory Discrimination of Suprasegmentals – the ability to detect differences in non-phoneme aspects of speech including rate, intensity, duration, pitch, and overall prosody
  • Auditory Discrimination of Segmentals – the ability to detect differences between specific speech sounds

Step 3: Auditory Identification

  • Auditory Identification (Auditory Association) – the ability to attach meaning to sounds and speech
  • Auditory Feedback/Self-Monitoring – the ability to change speech production based on information you get from hearing yourself speak
  • Phonological Awareness (Auditory Analysis) – the ability to identify, blend, segment, and manipulate oral language structure