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Keywords:

  • specific language impairment;
  • frequency discrimination;
  • intensity discrimination;
  • reading ability;
  • oral language ability;
  • school-aged children

Abstract

Some children have difficulty in perceiving differences between sounds, even though they have normal hearing sensitivity, and it has been suggested that such problems could lead to difficulties in language and literacy development. Poor ability to distinguish sounds on the basis of frequency (perceived as pitch) has been described in poor readers on a variety of auditory processing tasks. The aim of the present study was three-fold: to determine whether children with specific language impairment (SLI) have difficulty discriminating frequency, whether this deficit is specific to the frequency domain, or part of a more general auditory impairment, and whether it is linked to reading or oral language ability. The performance of a SLI group (N = 15) and a control group with normally developing oral language matched for age and intelligence (N = 18) was compared on a frequency discrimination task and a control task testing intensity discrimination. The children with SLI consistently demonstrated significantly poorer performance on the frequency discrimination task, but not on the intensity discrimination task. Frequency discrimination thresholds were not related to reading ability in either group. This study provides evidence for a basic auditory deficit in children with SLI, regardless of their reading ability. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.