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Developmental trends in auditory processing can provide early predictions of language acquisition in young infants


Address for correspondence: Twila Tardif, Center for Human Growth and Development, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 300 N. Ingalls, 10th Floor, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA; e-mail:


Auditory processing capabilities at the subcortical level have been hypothesized to impact an individual's development of both language and reading abilities. The present study examined whether auditory processing capabilities relate to language development in healthy 9-month-old infants. Participants were 71 infants (31 boys and 40 girls) with both Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) and language assessments. At 6 weeks and/or 9 months of age, the infants underwent ABR testing using both a standard hearing screening protocol with 30 dB clicks and a second protocol using click pairs separated by 8, 16, and 64-ms intervals presented at 80 dB. We evaluated the effects of interval duration on ABR latency and amplitude elicited by the second click. At 9 months, language development was assessed via parent report on the Chinese Communicative Development Inventory - Putonghua version (CCDI-P). Wave V latency z-scores of the 64-ms condition at 6 weeks showed strong direct relationships with Wave V latency in the same condition at 9 months. More importantly, shorter Wave V latencies at 9 months showed strong relationships with the CCDI-P composite consisting of phrases understood, gestures, and words produced. Likewise, infants who had greater decreases in Wave V latencies from 6 weeks to 9 months had higher CCDI-P composite scores. Females had higher language development scores and shorter Wave V latencies at both ages than males. Interestingly, when the ABR Wave V latencies at both ages were taken into account, the direct effects of gender on language disappeared. In conclusion, these results support the importance of low-level auditory processing capabilities for early language acquisition in a population of typically developing young infants. Moreover, the auditory brainstem response in this paradigm shows promise as an electrophysiological marker to predict individual differences in language development in young children.

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