A magnetoencephalographic study of low-level auditory processing in developmental dyslexia
The possibility that developmental dyslexia results from low-level sensory processing deficits has received renewed interest in recent years. Opponents of such sensory-based explanations argue that dyslexia arises primarily from phonological impairments. However, many behavioural correlates of dyslexia cannot be explained sufficiently by cognitive-level accounts and there is anatomical, psychometric and physiological evidence of sensory deficits in the dyslexic population. This thesis aims to determine whether the low-level (pre-attentive) processing of simple auditory stimuli is disrupted in compensated adult dyslexics. Using psychometric and neurophysiological measures, the nature of auditory processing abnormalities is investigated. Group comparisons are supported by analysis of individual data in order to address the issue of heterogeneity in dyslexia. The participant pool consisted of seven compensated dyslexic adults and seven age and IQ matched controls. The dyslexic group were impaired, relative to the control group, on measures of literacy, phonological awareness, working memory and processing speed. Magnetoencephalographic recordings were conducted during processing of simple, non-speech, auditory stimuli. Results confirm that low-level auditory processing deficits are present in compensated dyslexic adults. The amplitude of N1m responses to tone pair stimuli were reduced in the dyslexic group. However, there was no evidence that manipulating either the silent interval or the frequency separation between the tones had a greater detrimental effect on dyslexic participants specifically. Abnormal MMNm responses were recorded in response to frequency deviant stimuli in the dyslexic group. In addition, complete stimulus omissions, which evoked MMNm responses in all control participants, failed to elicit significant MMNm responses in all but one of the dyslexic individuals. The data indicate both a deficit of frequency resolution at a local level of auditory processing and a higher-level deficit relating to the grouping of auditory stimuli, relevant for auditory scene analysis. Implications and directions for future research are outlined.