Deficient phonological skills are considered to be a core problem in developmental dyslexia. Children with dyslexia often demonstrate poorer performance than non-impaired readers when categorizing speech-sounds. Using the automatic mismatch response, we show that in contrast to this deficit at the behavioural level, neurophysiological responding in dyslexic children indicates their ability to automatically discriminate syllables. Therefore, the phonological deficit is unlikely to be caused by a temporal deficit or by a noisy functional organization in the respective representational cortex. We obtained measures of reading, spelling and categorical speech-perception from 58 dyslexic children and 21 control children. The children also participated in magnetoencephalographic measurements while being stimulated acoustically with the syllables /ba/ and /da/ in an oddball paradigm. Mismatch field (MMF) amplitudes between standard and deviant stimuli were obtained. Dyslexic children performed more poorly than control children on all test measures. However, the groups did not differ in MMF amplitude or latency. No correlations were found between MMF amplitudes and behavioural performance.
These results were obtained with a large sample size and thus speak robustly against a general deficit in auditory discrimination in dyslexia. These results are compatible with the idea that decoding difficulties occur later in the processing stream where access to the phonological lexicon is attempted.