Sensory Series – Auditory

Introduction to Auditory Processing


This might be the sense that most people recognise as being different in those with sensory processing disorders – especially autistic children. It is difficult to misinterprete what someone is trying to do when they cover their ears with their hands (although I am sure it as happened). However, just because people see someone covering their ears, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can understand how something that is bearable for them is completely unbearable to someone else.

Sound impacts so many areas of our life, and if you are hyper or hypo sensitive to sound then it can affect you across a range of areas. Sounds allows us to communicate (both receptively and expressively), makes us aware of dangers, and can be big parts of enjoyable activities, just to name a few. So obviously it is important to understand how auditory processing can impact on a person’s life.



The individual’s threshold for auditory information is low, and auditory information will quickly become overwhelming for this person. Things to look out for as indicators that a person might be hyper-sensitive to hearing are:

  • Covers ears – seems obvious but I have worked with a number of staff who saw children doing this and just said something like “Oh it’s not that loud!”
  • Runs out of loud areas
  • Complains of outside noises or noises that others cannot hear.
  • Perceives speech as shouting.
  • Hums to self to block out the external noise – better to make your own noise because then you can control it.
  • Insists on one person speaking.
  • Scared of toilets (hand dryers and toilets flushing can be terrifying to hyper-sensitive individuals).

One of the things to remember about having hyper-hearing (or indeed any hyper-sensitivity) is that it’s often not an annoyance or a mild distraction; they can be painful and very distracting.



Hypo-hearing can be more difficult to identify than hyper-hearing because indicators such as not responding to being spoken to can be hypo-hearing or because their hyper-hearing makes it difficult to know what information should be attended to. Regardless, some possible indicators include:

  • Not responding to name or direct speech.
  • Verbal stimming such as repeating phrases, shouting to self, humming or singing to self.
  • Talks loudly or shouts.
  • Prefers listening to loud music, may press ear to speakers.
  • Enjoys playing instruments loudly, may press ear against instruments (keyboard, guitar) whilst they are played.
  • Enjoys being in noisy environments.


What else?

As I said in the Introduction to Visual Processing post, hyper and hypo sensitivities are just two types of processing differences. There are many other ways that can affect the input, processing or output of the sensory system, but they do tend to be less researched. So examples of other ways that auditory information might be affected include:

  • Speech seems to fade in and out, like someone is turning a volume up and down.
  • Certain pitches are heard whilst others are not – this means that words may not make sense as the whole word isn’t processed.
  • In combination with mental processing; speech can become meaningless because verbal information starts to “stack” and stops making sense.
  • Speech just comes through as unintelligible sounds, or only the occasional word can be attended to.
  • Difficulty differentiating own internal monologue or thoughts from external speech.

These are just some examples of other ways that the auditory processing system can be affected, if you have any other examples or want to share your own experiences then leave a message below.

Until next time.

Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such

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