OBJECTIVE: To determine whether neurophysiological auditory brainstem responses to clicks and repeated speech stimuli differ between typically developing children and children with phonological disorders. INTRODUCTION: Phonological disorders are language impairments resulting from inadequate use of adult phonological language rules and are among the most common speech and language disorders in children (prevalence: 8 - 9%). Our hypothesis is that children with phonological disorders have basic differences in the way that their brains encode acoustic signals at brainstem level when compared to normal counterparts. METHODS: We recorded click and speech evoked auditory brainstem responses in 18 typically developing children (control group) and in 18 children who were clinically diagnosed with phonological disorders (research group). The age range of the children was from 7-11 years. RESULTS: The research group exhibited significantly longer latency responses to click stimuli (waves I, III and V) and speech stimuli (waves V and A) when compared to the control group. DISCUSSION: These results suggest that the abnormal encoding of speech sounds may be a biological marker of phonological disorders. However, these results cannot define the biological origins of phonological problems. We also observed that speech-evoked auditory brainstem responses had a higher specificity/sensitivity for identifying phonological disorders than click-evoked auditory brainstem responses. CONCLUSIONS: Early stages of the auditory pathway processing of an acoustic stimulus are not similar in typically developing children and those with phonological disorders. These findings suggest that there are brainstem auditory pathway abnormalities in children with phonological disorders
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