Audiobooks for Both Neurotypical and Neurodivergent Tweens

by Cat Patrick

Image credit: Peter Berglund/Getty Images

As the mom of twin pre-teens, one neurotypical and one neurodivergent, I’m a huge fan of audiobooks for kids with all types of brains. Audiobooks have so many benefits, which are outlined below. These five great listens are perfect for upper elementary and middle schoolers.

Benefits of Audiobooks

First and foremost, audiobooks help quiet negative thinking. I don’t know about you, but my own inner voice was probably its noisiest and most brutal during middle school. Audiobooks can help quiet those thoughts because it’s hard to pay attention to your inner voice while also listening to a narrator.

Additionally, for neurodivergent children, audiobooks can aid in comprehension. Kids who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other disorders, and who may not inherently understand things like inflection or sarcasm on the page, can actually hear those cues with an audiobook. Children with dyslexia may find relief in audiobooks. Those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) brains, that seemingly move faster than everyone else’s, may like that they can speed up an audiobook. All of these things can help add clarity and remove confusion — and when a book is easier to follow, it stands to reason that it’ll be more likely to be finished.

Audiobooks also invite multitasking: kids can listen while doing a chore, like tending to a particularly messy bedroom or folding laundry, or while exercising. They also invite connectedness. Here are three ways my family has connected with audiobooks recently:

1. Walking Together, Listening Separately
Let’s be honest, after spending months quarantined together, sometimes my family and I run out of things to talk about. This allows for the benefit of being together, but takes the pressure off the need to force conversation.

2. Exploring Together, Listening Together
With summer vacations canceled, we’ve had to find new ways to fill our days. We like to pick a destination that’s one or two hours from home, pick a book, and ride and drive. Treats are usually involved, of course!

3. Listening Together (And Adding a Theme!)
The pandemic has made my kids more nostalgic and open to activities that might have previously been brushed off as “so cheesy, Mom.” This includes things like listening to a beach-themed audiobook outside while toasting s’mores, or listening to a mystery and then playing a mystery game — like one of our “too many” editions of Clue.

These five audiobooks are recommended for the following: 

  • Taking a (Long) Family Road Trip… Or Several Day Trips

  • Echo

    by Pam Muñoz Ryan, read by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Andrews MacLeod, and Rebecca Solera

    Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, narrated by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Andrews MacLeod, and Rebecca Solera, is a mesmerizing journey through decades and different family stories with one common thread: a harmonica.

The good news for parents is that studies show that stories stimulate the same parts of our brains, regardless of whether they’re read or heard. And it’s easy to get access to audiobooks via bookstores, some school libraries, and most public libraries. That’s why, with tons of great, recently-launched options out there, my “to be listened” pile is stacking up.