Paint Chips and Auditory Discrimination

You never know how many shades of “white” there are until you want to paint a room. You head to the hardware store looking for white paint — normal, plain, white paint — and are confronted with dozens of options. Eggshell. Polar Bear. Frost. Antique White. Vibrant White. To the untrained eye, they look virtually identical. But to a trained color artist (it’s a real job, I googled it!), each shade is very distinct.

I think about auditory discrimination practice in much the same way. Speech sounds that are very close (e.g., cat vs. cap) can sound identical to a new listener or a listener with a history of inadequate auditory access with their hearing technology (for example, someone who was a CI candidate for a very long time but struggled along with hearing aids for years before taking the plunge, or someone whose CI was poorly programmed and has recently been correctly mapped for the first time). At first, similar sounds blur together and are indistinguishable, just like the many shades of white at the paint store. But just as it takes time and the development of a “sensitive eye” to become a color artist, distinguishing between speech sounds (auditory discrimination) is a learnable skill, too!

If I showed you two swatches of paint that were one shade apart and asked you to tell the difference between the two, you might not get it right the first time. But if you practiced and really studied the two options multiple times, you’d soon be able to tell them apart. Auditory discrimination exercises work the same way. The differences may seem obvious to those of us with typical hearing and we can tell the difference immediately, accurately, and consistently. For someone with hearing loss, this skill is learnable and possible, but it’s going to take time and practice.

Sounds (or words) that sound the same to someone aren’t a lost cause! The brain is incredible and with good audiological management to ensure optimal auditory access, expert therapeutic guidance, time, and practice, the world of sound can go from a messy blur to a beautiful rainbow of shades and colors!

3 thoughts on “Paint Chips and Auditory Discrimination

  1. And, here I thought you were headed in the direction of discussing enhanced and expanded vocabulary development! Lol! Glad I read the article! 😘

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