Auditory scene analysis in school-aged children with developmental language disorders

E. Sussman, M. Steinschneider, W. Lee, K. Lawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Natural sound environments are dynamic, with overlapping acoustic input originating from simultaneously active sources. A key function of the auditory system is to integrate sensory inputs that belong together and segregate those that come from different sources. We hypothesized that this skill is impaired in individuals with phonological processing difficulties. There is considerable disagreement about whether phonological impairments observed in children with developmental language disorders can be attributed to specific linguistic deficits or to more general acoustic processing deficits. However, most tests of general auditory abilities have been conducted with a single set of sounds. We assessed the ability of school-aged children (7-15. years) to parse complex auditory non-speech input, and determined whether the presence of phonological processing impairments was associated with stream perception performance. A key finding was that children with language impairments did not show the same developmental trajectory for stream perception as typically developing children. In addition, children with language impairments required larger frequency separations between sounds to hear distinct streams compared to age-matched peers. Furthermore, phonological processing ability was a significant predictor of stream perception measures, but only in the older age groups. No such association was found in the youngest children. These results indicate that children with language impairments have difficulty parsing speech streams, or identifying individual sound events when there are competing sound sources. We conclude that language group differences may in part reflect fundamental maturational disparities in the analysis of complex auditory scenes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-124
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • Auditory scene analysis
  • Development
  • Language impairments
  • Mismatch negativity (MMN)
  • Phonological awareness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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