Auditory neurophysiological development in early childhood: A growth curve modeling approach

Elaine C. Thompson, Ryne Estabrook, Jennifer Krizman, Spencer Smith, Stephanie Huang, Travis White-Schwoch, Trent Nicol, Nina Kraus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective: During early childhood, the development of communication skills, such as language and speech perception, relies in part on auditory system maturation. Because auditory behavioral tests engage cognition, mapping auditory maturation in the absence of cognitive influence remains a challenge. Furthermore, longitudinal investigations that capture auditory maturation within and between individuals in this age group are scarce. The goal of this study is to longitudinally measure auditory system maturation in early childhood using an objective approach. Methods: We collected frequency-following responses (FFR) to speech in 175 children, ages 3–8 years, annually for up to five years. The FFR is an objective measure of sound encoding that predominantly reflects auditory midbrain activity. Eliciting FFRs to speech provides rich details of various aspects of sound processing, namely, neural timing, spectral coding, and response stability. We used growth curve modeling to answer three questions: 1) does sound encoding change across childhood? 2) are there individual differences in sound encoding? and 3) are there individual differences in the development of sound encoding? Results: Subcortical auditory maturation develops linearly from 3-8 years. With age, FFRs became faster, more robust, and more consistent. Individual differences were evident in each aspect of sound processing, while individual differences in rates of change were observed for spectral coding alone. Conclusions: By using an objective measure and a longitudinal approach, these results suggest subcortical auditory development continues throughout childhood, and that different facets of auditory processing follow distinct developmental trajectories. Significance: The present findings improve our understanding of auditory system development in typically-developing children, opening the door for future investigations of disordered sound processing in clinical populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2110-2122
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Auditory processing
  • Childhood
  • Development
  • Growth curve modeling
  • Longitudinal
  • Neurophysiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)


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