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Learning to Listen

Learning to Listen

Hearing is very important to speech and language development. A child with hearing loss generally has to be taught how to actively listen.

Your Child’s Abilities

Your child should develop four skills in order to learn to listen.  The skills are taught in a specific order because they build on each other.

Skill 1: Detection

Detection is the ability to respond to the presence or absence of sound. It is the first step in learning to listen.

Your child can learn detection through conditioned play response or spontaneous alerting response. 

Conditioned play response teaches your child to perform an action upon hearing a sound (example: placing a block in a bucket when he hears the sound). First, the therapist will show your child the activity and help your child do the activity several times.  Then your child can try the activity by themselves. 

Spontaneous alerting response includes behaviors such as searching for a sound, turning eyes or head toward a sound, or vocalizing.  Your child’s goal is to listen throughout the day.

Skill 2: Discrimination

Discrimination is the ability to pick out how two or more sounds (both speech and non-speech sounds) are alike or different. 

Your child learns discrimination by focusing on “same-different” sounds. Do they sound the same or different?  Examples may include sound differences like “dog” or “dogs” or a cow mooing and a bird chirping.

Your child learns to respond differently to different sounds.

Skill 3: Identification

Identification is the ability to repeat back what is said or point to an object that matches what they heard. (Example: if the therapist says “hot dog,” the child must point to the picture of the hot dog.) 

Your child will learn about speech patterns and how to identify vowels and consonants in speech. This includes sounds at the beginnings of words and words that have different numbers of syllables.

Skill 4: Comprehension

Comprehension is the ability to understand what is said and to respond in the correct way. (Example: a child who answers a question through listening alone is demonstrating hearing comprehension.)

Comprehension requires children to remember what they hear.  It is practiced in a particular order:

  • Familiar expressions and common phrases (example: How old are you?)
  • Following single directions and two directions (example: Get your shoes.)
  • Following three directions in order
  • Understanding many-part directions
  • Putting three events in a story in order (example: What comes first, second, last?)
  • Answering questions about a story
  • Listening where there is background noise


There are several types of tests for children that may help determine which auditory skills your child needs to learn.


Children with a hearing loss, who begin services early, may be able to develop language (spoken and/or signed) like their hearing friends. An audiologist will assess your child’s auditory skills and suggest the best treatment plan for your child. A speech-language pathologist will teach you how to help your child develop speech, language and communication skills.

Last Updated 03/2021

Reviewed By Molly Bertinato, MA, CCC-A

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