Children with reading impairments have long been associated with impaired perception for rapidly presented acoustic stimuli and recently have shown deficits for slower features. It is not known whether impairments for low-frequency acoustic features negatively impact processing of speech in reading-impaired individuals. Here we provide neurophysiological evidence that poor readers have impaired representation of the speech envelope, the acoustical cue that provides syllable pattern information in speech. We measured cortical-evoked potentials in response to sentence stimuli and found that good readers indicated consistent right-hemisphere dominance in auditory cortex for all measures of speech envelope representation, including the precision, timing, and magnitude of cortical responses. Poor readers showed abnormal patterns of cerebral asymmetry for all measures of speech envelope representation. Moreover, cortical measures of speech envelope representation predicted up to 41% of the variability in standardized reading scores and 50% in measures of phonological processing across a wide range of abilities. Our findings strongly support a relationship between acoustic-level processing and higher-level language abilities, and are the first to link reading ability with cortical processing of low-frequency acoustic features in the speech signal. Our results also support the hypothesis that asymmetric routing between cerebral hemispheres represents an important mechanism for temporal encoding in the human auditory system, and the need for an expansion of the temporal processing hypothesis for reading disabilities to encompass impairments for a wider range of speech features than previously acknowledged.
ASJC Scopus subject areas