A popular hypothesis holds that specific reading disability (SRD) and specific language impairment (SLI) result from an impaired ability to process rapid and brief sounds. However, the results of experiments that have tested this hypothesis are incongruous. A number of factors could explain these contradictory findings, including the questionable reliability and validity of rapid auditory processing tasks, individual differences in the auditory processing abilities of SRD and SLI populations, the age of listeners, the quality of control groups, and the relationship between verbal and non-verbal auditory processing abilities. These issues highlight the need for future studies to (1) establish the reliability and validity of psychophysical tasks used to assess rapid auditory processing; (2) report the rapid auditory processing scores of individuals rather than just group means; (3) include a wide range of reading and spoken language tests to determine the literacy and oral language profile of people who demonstrate an auditory processing deficit; (4) include clinical comparison groups to determine whether a rapid auditory processing deficit is related specifically to written and spoken language impairments; and (5) examine the relationship between low-level non-verbal, verbal, and phonological processing abilities. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.