How An Auditory Processing Disorder Affects Learning To Read

We all want our children to read so they can read God’s Word and get along better in the world.  Much of our learning comes through the ability to read. As moms, we often make it “our mission” for our children to read well. This is a good mission to have but is sometime a challenge to accomplish.

I am going to say something controversial right from the start and get it out of the way. Are you ready?

Here it is:

Phonics may not be the best way for you to teach reading to a particular child unless foundational skills for success with phonics are in place.

I know it may be a shock to hear me say that about phonics especially in the light of all you have been told about the importance of a phonetic approach to reading.  I have to admit, this was quite a surprise to me when I first heard it as well. I had diligently been trying to teach my daughter with special needs to read with a phonics approach for five years! Before my own attempts at this reading quest, the public and private school were also on that same phonics mission.

She was a phonics dropout, but she was a phonogram superhero!  She knew the sounds of all 70 phonograms, even the ones like “ough” that have six sounds. Even though the sounds of the phonograms were solid, she couldn’t hold the sounds together past a three letter word to read anything! This was rather confusing, and I have to admit extremely frustrating.

I found out after my five-year, miserable failure to attempt phonics, that she had low auditory processing.  That meant she couldn’t hold the pieces (sounds) in her short term memory long enough to put them together to get the word out, at least without much difficulty and practically no comprehension. We were in an endless loop of sounding out the same word over and over until something sort of like the word came out. By the time she got to the end of the sentence, she had no clue what she read.  WOW!

For some children learning to read using the phonics approach is a breeze, but for others like my daughter, it is a terrible, deflating struggle.  When children have low sequential auditory processing abilities (an inability to hold a series of items in consecutive order in short-term memory), phonics doesn’t work well.

How an auditory processing disorder affects learning to read

Auditory Processing And Phonics

Why is auditory processing so important for using phonics? Phonics is an auditory learning system, meaning, the child must be able to hold all the pieces of the word and the rules together in his brain long enough to get the word out of his brain. Hear me carefully, phonics is a fabulous way to learn to read for those with good auditory sequential processing!  I love, love, love it!  For those with low auditory abilities though, it can be a nightmare for parents and students alike. Discouragement sets in and the child often believes he can’t read.

What are the root causes of reading challenges? When auditory processing is too low and words get longer and more complicated, the child often gets lost by the end of the word and ends up guessing. This makes auditory processing a significant factor but often not the only root cause.

What about the eyes?  If the child’s eyes are not tracking well and converging (working together at all the different distances), this could be an important clue that another root cause may be present.  Other developmental issues with the eyes can also be traced to reading struggles.

You can listen to podcast #17 – Make Reading Easier for a better understanding of other developmental challenges.  This podcast also helps you discover how to raise your child’s auditory processing abilities so he can be more successful with phonics in the future.​

Tips For Reading Success

In the meantime, try these Brain Coach Tips to help your child have more success in reading:

• Determine if your child is struggling with low sequential auditory processing by ordering your Free Auditory Processing Test Kit. Your child should have a strong 5 digit span and preferably working on a 6 digit span before reading with phonics is effective.

• Do some auditory processing activities twice a day for two minutes (instructions included in your free kit). In my opinion, this would be the best investment of your homeschooling time that you will ever make! The benefits go far beyond phonics help.

• Read to your child with him following word by word. Then have the child read the same sentence or paragraph immediately after you (Echo Reading). I know this sounds a bit like cheating and memorizing, but prepare for another shocker that you might not have realized yet. We are really sight readers! Once we know a word, we don’t sound it out again.  I know that is hard to believe, but read the statement at the end of this article: Phonics VS Sight Reading.  Now tell me if you read it with phonics.

• Don’t let your child struggle.  Tell him the words he doesn’t know or sound it out for him.

• Have your child listen to auditory books daily and read aloud daily. At least an hour a day of listening will help develop the auditory processing.

• Teach your child sight words while building auditory processing levels. Then work more successfully with the phonics approach when the foundation of processing is set. Find resources here. We are actually sight readers once we know a word so by combining these approaches you have the best of both worlds and a happier, more successful reader.

• For eye issues, listen to Visual Challenges at


Jan Bedell, PhD, M.ND, aka Brain Coach™, has been a master neurodevelopmentalist for over two decades. Her experience as an educator in the public, private and home school realm has allowed her to bring forth her true passion–helping parents better the lives of their children by enhancing their brains. Catch her speaking at the 2018 FPEA conference May 24-26.

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