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Poster D16, Thursday, November 9, 6:15 – 7:30 pm, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Speech sound processing and its association to familial risk of dyslexia and communication skills in six-month-old infants

Linda Lönnqvist1, Paula Virtala1, Eino Partanen1,2, Paavo Leppänen3, Anja Thiede1, Teija Kujala1;1Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Finland, 2Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University, Denmark, 3Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Developmental dyslexia is a difficulty in achieving age-appropriate literacy skills in absence of intellectual disabilities or educational deprivation. This heritable condition is relatively common and it often hampers the academic success, employment opportunities, and everyday life of the affected individual. Today dyslexia is usually diagnosed at the end of first or second grade, even though the mechanisms behind the condition are thought to be present and affecting the individuals’ language development from a very early age on. Both structural and functional abnormalities in brain areas associated with processing of sound, speech sounds and language have been found in children who later develop dyslexia. The early stages of the neural development leading to dyslexia and the relation between neural sound processing and early communication skills should be further investigated. If children in need of intervention could be detected and offered support at an early age, problems affecting the individuals’ well-being could be alleviated substantially. The aim of this study was to investigate the relations between neural speech sound processing, prelinguistic communication skills and familial risk of dyslexia in infants. The study is a part of a longitudinal research project studying language development in children with or without a familial risk of dyslexia from birth to school age. The current study includes data from approximately 100 participants, measured at six months of age. A smaller sample was used for these preliminary results. The at-risk group and the control group were matched by age and gender. We studied cortical discrimination of frequency, duration, and vowel changes in natural speech sounds by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) in a multifeature paradigm. To assess early communicative skills we used questionnaires filled-in by the parents. We predicted that the brains of children at risk of dyslexia would respond to speech sound changes differently than the brains of children not at risk, as reflected in group differences in event-related potentials (ERPs) and that there would be an association between the neural response (ERPs) to speech sound changes and early communication skills. Preliminary results suggest that infants with familial risk of dyslexia differ from infants without the risk in processing of speech sounds and speech sound changes. For example, neural discrimination of sound frequency changes was altered in at-risk infants. Additionally, the parental questionnaires tentatively suggest lower prelinguistic communication skills in the at-risk group compared to the control group. Significant correlations between ERPs evoked by speech sound changes and prelinguistic communication skills were found. For example, the size of ERPs evoked by the vowel change showed a positive correlation with prelinguistic skills. To conclude, our results suggest that language development differs between children with vs. without a familial risk of dyslexia both at the neural and the behavioral level, and that speech sound processing is associated with prelinguistic communication skills already at six months of age. The findings may be useful for identifying children in need of language intervention early and for developing the principles of effective interventions aiming to alleviate or even prevent later language and literacy difficulties.

Topic Area: Language Development

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