Autism and auditory processing

It is well understood that many on the autism spectrum experience challenges with processing a range of sensory information. In this blog I would like to cover aspects of autism that relate to auditory processing and how these can impact upon daily life.

Auditory processing is often described as ‘what we do with what we hear’. If you think of a hearing test at the Doctors or in hospital, this uses pure tone sound to check at what volume we can hear higher and lower sounds. Being able to ‘hear’ sound is clearly very important but it does not tell us much about auditory processing! If you are old enough to remember the test card on the BBC in the UK, this pure tone sound at around 400Hz was only one frequency and is actually quite uncomfortable to listen to. I'm sure this would have been deliberately designed to wake you up to go to bed!

Natural sound is a complex mix of many frequencies that arrive at our ears together with millisecond time differences and variations in volume. To communicate and function well in daily life, we need to be able to take all the sounds in our environment, process or ignore them as appropriate, and develop meaning. This is as important for environmental sounds such as bird song, motorbikes or the crying of a baby, as it is with speech. Many on the spectrum have challenges with gaining meaning from the world of sound we hear every day.