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Auditory processing and reading in children with reported reading and/or listening concerns

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posted on 28.03.2022, 16:36 by Rakshita Gokula
The sensory theory of reading disorder states that poor auditory processing contributes to reading difficulties. Proponents of this theory cite supporting research which shows that many children with reading disorders have auditory processing deficits. In contrast, other researchers reject the proposal that auditory processing skills contribute to reading skill, drawing support from the finding that not every child with a reading difficulty shows a concurrent auditory processing difficulty. Bearing in mind this disagreement in the literature, the broad aim of the research reported in this thesis was to investigate the association between auditory processing and reading skills in a cohort of Australian, primary-school-aged children. Since auditory processing is not a deficit in a single component in children, but encompasses a range of skills, a battery of psychoacoustic and electrophysiological tasks was used to measure auditory processing in 28 typically-developing children and 95 children with reported reading and/or listening difficulties between the ages of 8 to 11-years. Standard measures of reading, receptive language, visual attention and working memory were also administered, along with measures of auditory and visual statistical learning. Three studies were undertaken to address the overall aim. The objective of study 1 was to document the auditory processing deficits present in children with word reading difficulties. From the total cohort of 95 children with reported reading/listening difficulties, a subset of 23 children was identified as having difficulty with oral word reading. These children scored at least 1.5 SD below the norm on measures of regular word, irregular word, and/or non-word reading. The performance of this group was compared to that of the age-matched typical control children (N = 28). The results indicated that children with word reading difficulties had poorer performance on frequency patterning, detection of gaps in noise, listening in spatialized noise, discrimination of frequency, and dichotic perception of digits. Children with word reading deficits also demonstrated significantly poorer receptive vocabulary, visual attention, and working memory. For the electrophysiological response to iterated rippled noise (32 and 8 iterations), children with word reading difficulties had smaller acoustic change complex amplitudes when compared to the control group. Comparing between children with and without reading difficulties, the latter group showed poor performance across nearly all auditory processing tasks. Individual data showed variability in the word reading skills and auditory processing skills. More children had non-word and regular and/or irregular word difficulty. Nearly half of the 23 children showed comorbid auditory processing and visual attention deficits. The study highlighted the variations in the auditory processing skills of children with word reading difficulties. As there were no apparent sub-profiles, study 2 was conducted to analyse the association between auditory processing skills and non-word reading by comparing performances across children with poor, typical, and above average non-word reading abilities. The first objective of study 2 was to identify, amongst the children with listening and reading concerns, whether those with the poorest decoding skills also had the poorest auditory processing skills when compared to children with the best decoding skills. Seventy-eight children with listening and reading concerns were evaluated on their decoding skills using non-word reading. Three groups were identified: group 1 consisted of 22 children with the poorest decoding skills (≥1.5 SD below the norm); group 2 comprised 41 children who scored between -1 and +1 SD; and group 3 included 15 children with the best decoding skills (who scored ≥ 1.5 SD above the norm). The results revealed that children with the weakest decoding skills scored significantly worse on frequency discrimination and visual attention than the other groups. The children with the best decoding skills had relatively higher working memory and nonverbal intelligence scores. The second objective of the second study was to address the question of whether only non-word reading is associated with auditory processing skills. To assess this objective, auditory processing skills were assessed in children with selectively poor non-word reading and those with selectively poor irregular word reading. In the cohort of 95 children with listening/reading difficulties who participated in the research, 5 children were observed to have deficits on only irregular word reading (a surface dyslexic pattern), and 9 children had selective deficits in non-word reading (a phonological dyslexic pattern). A comparison of these groups revealed that children with phonological dyslexia had significantly poorer elision and working memory when compared to the group with surface dyslexia. The two groups, however, did not differ on any auditory processing measure. While this is a very small sample, the results suggest assessing the auditory processing and cognitive abilities of the two groups with a larger number of participants. Therefore, in order to understand the contribution of auditory processing skills to word reading and reading comprehension in children, study 3 was conducted. The objective of study 3 was to assess whether any auditory processing measure concurrently predicted regular or irregular word reading, non-word reading, or reading comprehension in our cohort of children with listening and reading concerns. To unravel the association between auditory processing and reading, a series of multiple regression analyses was conducted with data gathered from 81 of the 95 children who had reported listening/reading concerns. A factor analysis was undertaken first to reduce the number of auditory processing variables. Three factors were identified, which included tasks measuring auditory discrimination (made up of frequency discrimination, iterated rippled noise, sinusoidal amplitude modulation, frequency patterning, and gaps in noise), speech in noise and binaural listening. The three factors were included in multiple regression analyses where the dependent variables were: regular word, irregular word, and non-word reading, and reading comprehension. For all models, age, gender, nonverbal IQ, receptive vocabulary, phonological awareness (elision), attention and working memory, and statistical learning were introduced first. After controlling for the listed variables, auditory processing factors were introduced into the model. The results indicated that only auditory discrimination significantly contributed to children’s regular word and irregular word reading abilities. Only when attention and memory was removed from the model, auditory discrimination was noted to contribute to non-word reading ability. While the current study did not aim to estimate a causal relationship, the implication of the findings is that auditory discrimination, as one of the sensory components, might indeed contribute to word reading deficits. The findings from the current series of studies provide support for the existence of an auditory processing deficit in some children with reading disorders. This assertion receives support from the observed contribution of auditory discrimination to regular word reading and non-word reading. With respect to clinical implications, the contribution of auditory discrimination to word reading supports the inclusion of auditory discrimination as a test of auditory processing in children with word reading difficulties. The contribution of auditory discrimination to word reading is small but unique. The question is should resources be allocated to assess and manage auditory discrimination skills when the contribution is so small relative to the other factors, including cognition. The current study was not designed to answer this question. A randomised control trial in children with non-word reading deficits is essential where the interventions target only cognitive and phonological processing skills in contrast to interventions that also include a focus on auditory discrimination.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Comorbidity of auditory processing, attention and memory in children with word reading difficulties -- Chapter 3. Is auditory processing associated with non-word reading ability in school-aged children with identified reading and/or listening concerns? -- Chapter 4. The contribution of auditory discrimination to word and non-word reading in school-aged children with reading difficulties -- Chapter 5. Discussion -- Appendices.


"HEARing Cooperative Research Centre, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia" -- title page. Includes bibliographical references Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Mridula Sharma


Copyright Rakshita Gokula 2019. Copyright disclaimer: http://mq.edu.au/library/copyright




1 online resource (xiii, 238 pages) graphs, tables

Former Identifiers

mq:71108 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/1270931