Brainstem correlates of temporal auditory processing in children with specific language impairment


Ananthanarayan Krishnan, Department of Speech Language, and Hearing Sciences, 1353 Heavilon Hall, Purdue University, 500 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA; e-mail:


Deficits in identification and discrimination of sounds with short inter-stimulus intervals or short formant transitions in children with specific language impairment (SLI) have been taken to reflect an underlying temporal auditory processing deficit. Using the sustained frequency following response (FFR) and the onset auditory brainstem responses (ABR) we evaluated if children with SLI show abnormalities at the brainstem level consistent with a temporal processing deficit. To this end, the neural encoding of tonal sweeps, as reflected in the FFR, for different rates of frequency change, and the effects of reducing inter-stimulus interval on the ABR components were evaluated in 10 4–11-year-old SLI children and their age-matched controls. Results for the SLI group showed degraded FFR phase-locked neural activity that failed to faithfully track the frequency change presented in the tonal sweeps, particularly at the faster sweep rates. SLI children also showed longer latencies for waves III and V of the ABR and a greater prolongation of wave III at high stimulus rates (>30/sec), suggesting greater susceptibility to neural adaptation. These results taken together appear to suggest a disruption in the temporal pattern of phase-locked neural activity necessary to encode rapid frequency change and an increased susceptibility to desynchronizing factors related to faster rates of stimulus presentation in children with SLI.