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Letters to Nature
Nature 387, 176 - 178 (08 May 1997); doi:10.1038/387176a0

Deficits in auditory temporal and spectral resolution in language-impaired children

Beverly A. Wright*, Linda J. Lombardino, Wayne M. King, Cynthia S. Puranik, Christiana M. Leonard§ & Michael M. Merzenich*

* Keck Center for Integrative Neurosdence, Box 0732, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143-0732, USA
Department of Communication Processes and Disorders, § Department of Neurosdence and University of Florida Brain Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA
Present address: Audiology and Hearing Sciences Program, Northwestern University, 2299 North Campus Drive, Evanston, Illinois 60208-3550, USA.

Between 3 and 6 per cent of children who are otherwise unimpaired have extreme difficulties producing and understanding spoken language1. This disorder is typically labelled specific language impairment. Children diagnosed with specific language impairment often have accompanying reading difficulties (dyslexia)2, but not all children with reading difficulties have specific language impairment3. Some researchers claim that language impairment arises from failures specific to language or cognitive processing4–6. Others hold that language impairment results from a more elemental problem that makes affected children unable to hear the acoustic distinctions among successive brief sounds in speech7–11. Here we report the results of psycho-physical tests employing simple tones and noises showing that children with specific language impairment have severe auditory perceptual deficits for brief but not long tones in particular sound contexts. Our data support the view that language difficulties result from problems in auditory perception, and provide further information about the nature of these perceptual problems that should contribute to improving the diagnosis and treatment of language impairment and related disorders.

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