Auditory Development 101

A head nod is typically a sign that you're listening. It's one of those non-verbal social cues. Pretending to listen is something that you can fake if you time it just right, but the jig is up pretty quickly if you're asked a question. Really though, you can't 'fake listen' your whole life. Learning to listen is needed to be successful in every situation: school, home, friends, and romantic relationships. This is why you need to focus on listening skills and auditory development with kids. The brain has to learn how to listen and process information. The auditory system has to start from recognizing that there's sound and develop to processing and remembering complex language.

How Listening Starts

Auditory development begins in utero and after birth the intricate process continues. While in utero, a baby can hear their mom talk and learns to recognize their native language. After birth, a baby has a preference for their native language but can still distinguish sounds in other languages until their 6-7 months old. After this age, a baby begins to focus in on the sounds of their native language and loses the ability to distinguish between sounds in non-native languages by their first birthday.

While it may seems devastating that the prime time to learn other languages ends by 12 months old, this is just the brain being efficient and specialized. It's "use it or lose it" in action as synaptic pruning. Because of our brain's design for efficiency, we've gotta develop the auditory system and language as much as possible during this critical time period. That's why children who are deaf or hard of hearing need hearing amplification (hearing aids, cochlear implants) and to receive early intervention services asap.

The brain's development is on a timeline and it's better to stay in the game than play catch-up. Click To Tweet

Stages of Listening

  1. Detection
    1. Recognizing that there is a sound.
    2. Example: Turning your head & opening/widening your eyes.
  2. Localization
    1. Finding where a sound is coming from.
    2. Example: Turning your head immediately to a sound. You can point to where the sound came from.
  3. Discrimination
    1. Recognizing whether sounds are the same or different.
    2. Example: Hearing "meow" and "woof" and knowing that they are different.
  4. Identification
    1. Know what a sound is.
    2. Example: Hearing "meow" and knowing it's coming from a cat.
  5. Comprehension
    1. Hearing something, knowing what it means and thinking about it.
    2. Example: You hear your mom call your name and you know that it means you need to go in the house.

Wanna know how to help your child develop their listening skills? Check out these posts.


Erber, N. (1982). Auditory Training. Washington DC: Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing "Auditory Processing" "Listening (Auditory Skills) Development" "Babies and Phoneme Filtering" Image Courtesy of Katemangostar -

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