Auditory Dyslexia

Auditory dyslexia is a neurological difference that makes understanding the separate sounds of language less automatic. This condition is sometimes also called auditory processing disorder. While most children are born with a brain that is ready to begin understanding the sounds and patterns of speech naturally and intuitively, not all kids have automatic wiring for this key part of learning.

How common is auditory processing disorder?

Both children and adults can have auditory dyslexia. It’s estimated that between 3 and 20 percent of the population struggles with some level of auditory dyslexia. This is especially important to know because when school-age children have a hearing difficulty that shows up as a sensory processing challenge, it can affect their ability to learn. Only about 5 percent of school-aged children dealing with auditory dyslexia actually get diagnosed and accommodated.

Research shows that up to 70 percent of people who have dyslexia also have some degree of dyslexia-related auditory processing difficulties. That means that many dyslexic children also have auditory dyslexia, although they and their parents may be unaware that they have it. Only a small number of children are ever diagnosed and treated for auditory processing disorders. Many of these kids may live with undetected challenges affecting their learning until adulthood and then discover they have literacy problems that were never fully addressed in childhood. They can hear words just fine, but their brain has trouble interpreting sound meaningfully.

Auditory processing disorder may also be associated with autism. Children with autism may have difficulty understanding and using spoken language. An auditory processing disorder can be present in addition to other disabilities that interfere with a child’s ability to communicate effectively with others and learn new information.

What is auditory dyslexia?

Here’s what you need to know about auditory dyslexia.

Hearing plays an essential role in the development of spoken language in children. Children with auditory dyslexia (aka auditory processing disorder) may be able to hear perfectly well, but they have difficulty understanding and processing what is being said.

A child with auditory processing disorder may cover their ears, avoid loud noises, have difficulty following directions, or be unable to understand what is being said by teachers or other adults. They may also perform poorly in school or have difficulty making friends because they find it difficult to understand other people’s speech and cues in social situations.

black and white photo of a young boy with his hands over his ears. Children with auditory dyslexia may cover their ears.

Adults with auditory dyslexia often have trouble understanding conversations or following directions, especially if there is more than one speaker or a lot of background noise. They may find it difficult to focus on, remember, or understand new information.

How do auditory processing disorders affect learning and literacy?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to see and manipulate individual sounds, such as hearing the difference between b and d or between p and q. It’s an essential ability for the development of language skills. Most people develop phonemic awareness naturally as children, although it may take longer for some kids. By age three, most children have developed the ability to understand the basic structure of speech and can distinguish between similar-sounding words such as cat and bat.

However, people with auditory dyslexia often lack phonemic awareness and may not recognize the individual sounds that make up a whole word. They often mispronounce words or have trouble sounding out letters or syllables. They may have difficulty recognizing rhyming words or blending sounds together to form words and sentences. They may not be able to distinguish the subtle differences in the sounds that make up a word. This can affect their ability to learn to read with accuracy and fluency.

Graphic showing an outline of a human head with a double circle inside representing the brain. Three arrows coming from different directions enter the head and point to the brain.

What if I suspect my child has auditory dyslexia?

Early detection and treatment of auditory dyslexia in children is important. Research shows that early intervention can minimize developmental delays and improve reading achievement. Early intervention also can reduce the likelihood that children with auditory processing problems will experience learning and social setbacks later in life. That’s why it’s important to have a comprehensive hearing assessment to identify children with auditory processing issues as early as possible. Early intervention and treatment can help children with auditory processing disorders develop strong language skills, improve reading comprehension, and improve social skills.

Speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help identify children with auditory dyslexia and provide individualized intervention and treatment to improve their communication skills. If your child has an auditory processing disorder, it’s essential that they receive appropriate treatment and intervention.

One form of intervention they may recommend is phonics instruction. Phonics instruction is a system of learning to read by associating letters with sounds. It uses an artificial system (like phonics rules) to teach children how to recognize written symbols representing spoken words. The idea is that once children can associate the sounds represented by letters with the sounds made by spoken English words, they can then use those sounds to decode written words. All students benefit from learning phonemic awareness through phonics instruction. For those struggling to understand the spoken word, extra time spent on this aspect of education can make all the difference in their educational success and experience.

For a thorough discussion of dyslexia, you may enjoy the second edition of my award-winning book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know, available in softcover, hardcover, eBook, and audio. In addition to facts on testing and accommodation, my book gives you the tools to provide the social and emotional support children with dyslexia require.

Cover of the book Raising a Child with Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know by Don M. Winn.

And to learn more about how every student best learns to read, you may also enjoy Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, by reading specialist and shortlisted World Literacy Award nominee Faith Borkowsky.

Cover of the book Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent's Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention by Faith Borkowsky.

Cardboard Box Adventures picture books are great for shared reading and can help parents establish a strong preliteracy foundation for their children. Check out the CBA Catalog for a full list of award-winning picture books, chapter books, and resources for parents and educators. Visit my Amazon author page for more information.


  1. I can hear, just not clearly. Do I have hearing loss? (
  2. What is dyslexia? (
  3. Developmental Problems (
  4. Effects of Hearing Loss on Development AUDIOLOGY (
  5. Hearing Loss and Its Effects on Speech and Language Development (
  6. 6-Year-Old Child Development Milestones (
  7. Sensory Processing in Autism: A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings (
  8. Does My Child Have Autism? (
  9. Most common cause of early Reading Writing and Spelling Disabilities (
  10. Understanding Dyscalculia and Dyslexia: What’s the Relationship (
  11. How to Teach Kids With Dyslexia to Read (