J Am Acad Audiol 2019; 30(06): 533-543
DOI: 10.3766/jaaa.17142
Thieme Medical Publishers 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.

Investigating Auditory Spectral and Temporal Resolution Deficits in Children with Reading Difficulties

Kiri Mealings
*   National Acoustic Laboratories, Sydney, Australia
Sharon Cameron
*   National Acoustic Laboratories, Sydney, Australia
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

13 February 2018

25 March 2018

Publication Date:
25 May 2020 (online)



The types of reading difficulties experienced by children are highly heterogeneous in nature, which makes diagnosis and intervention difficult. Over the past 30 years, there has been much debate over the cause of dyslexia. The two most popular theories for phonological deficits in dyslexia are the rate-processing constraint hypothesis, which relates to short timescale processing, and the temporal sampling framework hypothesis, which relates to longer timescale processing.


To investigate the relationship between sublexical (i.e., nonword) reading skills and auditory spectral and temporal resolution patterns in children with reading difficulties using the Phoneme Identification Test (PIT) and the Parsing Syllable Envelopes Test (ParSE). These tests were developed to assess the rate-processing constraint and the temporal sampling framework hypotheses, respectively. We hypothesized that a proportion of children who have sublexical reading difficulties may have an underlying auditory-resolution deficit which may impact their ability to form letter–sound correspondences. We predicted that children’s sublexical reading difficulties may not be explained by one theory, but instead that both theories may describe different types of reading difficulties found in different children. We also hypothesized that children with lexical (i.e., irregular word) reading difficulties but intact sublexical reading skills would not show atypical results on PIT or ParSE.

Research Design:

Behavioral experimental clinical study with children who have reading difficulties.

Study Sample:

Sixteen children with nonword, irregular word, or mixed reading difficulties diagnosed by the Castles and Coltheart Test 2.

Data Collection and Analysis:

Children completed a test battery consisting of a hearing screen and tests of reading, auditory resolution, phonological awareness, attention, spatial auditory processing, auditory memory, and intelligence. Categorization and correlational analyses were conducted.


All four children with a pure sublexical reading deficit also had an auditory-resolution deficit. Four of seven children with a mixed reading deficit had an auditory-resolution deficit. Only one of five children with a lexical reading deficit had an auditory-resolution deficit. Individual children’s specific deficits were related to either rate processing (n = 5) or temporal sampling (n = 4), but never both. Children’s nonword reading scores were strongly correlated with their performance on the PIT in noise, but not with the PIT in quiet or the ParSE. Children’s irregular word scores were not significantly correlated with their performance on the PIT in quiet or in noise, or the ParSE, as hypothesized. Strong correlations were also found between children’s nonword scores and their phonological awareness scores.


The results of this study suggest that neither the rate-processing hypothesis nor the temporal sampling framework is the single cause of reading difficulties in children. Instead, both of these hypotheses are likely to account for different types of reading deficits found in children. This is an important finding as the specific mechanisms driving different reading impairments must be identified to create tools to better diagnose and treat different types of reading difficulties. Further investigation of the PIT and ParSE as potential diagnostic tools for specific auditory-resolution–based reading difficulties in a larger group of children is currently underway.

This research is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Health.


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