Q&A on Aspergers and ‘hearing dyslexia’

Recently, I got a question on my post ‘Aspergers and ‘hearing dyslexia’.

When my highly imperfect answer topped a thousand words, I thought it worth a post of its own, because I think that while some Aspies might find it useful, others might  have helpful suggestions – much better than mine, which, if they are willing to share, could benefit us all.


My son is 16. We didn’t notice this “hearing dyslexia” for many years [perhaps we were too distracted by the other symptoms] but now it is overwhelming. Unless someone speaks very slowly and distinctly to him, my son will answer, “What did you say?” almost inevitably.
My question is: Am I understanding correctly that there’s really nothing to be done about this? My son can read great, can speak [though he tends to speak way too fast and mumbled; doesn’t seem like he used to as a child], but he definitely has the problem listed on this site.
Nice to know what it is, but beyond that, no suggestions?


This is a difficult question.

Something can be done, but…

There are therapies which have been used on young children – 3-6 years of age – which are showing definite improvement. This therapy is in the form of computer programs where they do simple tasks (say, help frog catch a fly) based on the length of a tone…which later builds up into series of 2,3+ tones done in the proper rhythm.

The theory behind this is neuroplasticity: the brain is being trained, slowly but surely, to use a different bit of the brain to do the job of integrating time with sound. Because the different bit of brain uses a slightly different ‘strategy’, even to accomplish the same task, the underlying problem will not interfere with that task.

Of course, trying to get a 16-year-old interested in a video game designed for 3-year-olds is not likely to have positive outcome.

But, there are other ways.

They are less effective, but they can work. And, for a 16-year-old, they are more practical.

It really depends on the Aspie: what will motivate them and what will work for each one individually.

One thing that helped both my sons was music.

With a metronome. (One on their computer was more ‘fun’ than a real one – plus it’s much cheaper.)

The sounds are written down in the music score – not just the tones, but their lengths and pauses.

He creates the sound on his instrument (from a cheap recorder or little keyboard to a sexy instrument he’d be willing to play, this bit is way less important) based on what is written down and the metronome helps him integrate the time element into the sound which is generated based on the visual input from the music score. Listening to himself play is the feedback…

I think the visual component is important – ‘playing by ear’ lack the rigor of integrating visual stimulus with the tone and metered time elements necessary to help re-route the ‘time-sound-synchronization’ bit into another area of the brain. Then, as he learns the piece (motor nerve integration into the time/sound system), the metronome can eventually be eliminated and he will still be able to ‘keep pace.

This is not a quick and easy solution, but one that might make an improvement in a teen. We definitely saw an improvement in ours once they took up an instrument – but only an improvement…certainly not an elimination of the problem.

Of course, the ‘shortcut’ would be the videogames where the computer plays the music and displays the colour-coded notes which have to be pressed for a specific period of time, which information is conveyed visually. (Games like RockBand and so on.)

Now that I come to think about it, these are the ‘teenager’ versions of the young-kid games used in the therapy which has been demonstrated to be effective in clinical trials for 3-6 year-olds!

Music could not ‘work’ for me – not only am I not interested in it, I find music actively annoying. Yes, I am sure that my hearing dyslexia is at least partly to blame – imagine listening to music, but with some of the notes jumbled up…you, too, might find it gives you headaches. (This is one of the reasons I avoid shopping malls and other places that force music at me.)

And even though I took piano lessons, within 2 years, 3 teachers kicked me out as ‘un-teachable’…so, no, for me, music absolutely did not work. (For example, I still have difficulty telling apart the movie themes from ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ – the same pathetic bombast, the same notes, just slightly re-ordered. Unless I hear them together, I have to think very, very hard to tell which one it is…)

However, what did work for me (a bit) was learning to speak foreign languages. Practicing making the sounds in front of a mirror, getting audio feedback to make sure I eliminated mispronunciation, and so on. (If you want to get really fun, you can use an oscilloscope to display the proper sound wave pattern, then try to match yours to it – hours of fun!)

Learning a language (even without the oscilloscope), I could use the audio, visual and work in the timing with the motor nerves of speech.

And the hook that kept me interested in learning languages was the pattern-making intricacies of grammars. Yes, grammars: because each language has a different approach to this and exploring this logic puzzle set my endorphins hopping! (I get happy just thinking about it!) It’s kind of like algebra, but with words.

(OK – the different alphabets were fun, too – but grammars are like logic puzzles on steroids! Especially when you compared the grammatical ‘philosophy’ to the culture it was used in and the religious memes it best supported – what could be more fascinating!!! But, I’m off on a tangent…)

Again, I am nowhere near ‘cured’, but it certainly helped me become more functional.

I still have extreme difficulty understanding spoken words when there is background noise – like, hum of other conversations, but, especially, music. That is why I loath movies – their background music is not just icky to listen to and calculated to be emotionally manipulative (a deep insult to the audience – in my never-humble-opinion), but it makes it difficult to follow the dialogue in the movie. I usually have to wait to see movies till I can buy them and watch them with subtitles. If the soundtrack is particularly emotionally manipulative, I’ve been known to turn the subtitles on and watch the movie on mute – a much more satisfying experience!

In social situations, I often rely on partial lip-reading: it helps me make more sense of the sounds. (And, yes – that is one reason why I hate the cultural normalization of niqabs and burkas.)

Well, that is my best advice for how to improve your son’s comprehension. As to speaking fast and mumbling…

If I knew how to stop my sons (13 and 18 now) from speaking very fast and mumbling, I’d try it – because they both do.

I’ve tried to get them to recite poetry in order to get them to improve the cadence of their speech – but they are about as interested in reciting poetry as I am in learning to sing movie scores… (Many of us Aspies have a deep-rooted hate for pretentiousness – and let’s face it, much poetry is very, very pretentious.)

In grade 9, my older son took drama in school – that did help him learn to speak slowly and understandably. Now, when he remembers to do so, he uses that skill.

Another thing which has helped them was talking to their grandmothers: one has a hearing problem and does not tolerate hearing aids well, the other struggles with English. So when they speak to either one of them, they have to consider not just what they want to convey, but also how best to convey it. They have to tailor their words differently for each grandmother – which forces them to pay attention to their diction.

It is surprising how helping other people overcome their difficulties can be an excellent tool for Aspies to help themselves overcome their own ‘little things’!!!    ;0)

I wish I could be of more help…

If anyone ‘out there’ has better suggestions, please, comment and let us all know.

Daniel Hannan: Europe’s Demise