Early childhood is about listening. However, our acoustic environments often compromise sound-to-meaning mapping: children are bombarded by a relentless din. While noise presents a challenge for all of us, children face special difficulty because their language skills are under development, and their brains are not yet tuned to extract meaningful sounds from noise automatically. Our view is that background noise disrupts the brain mechanisms important for language development. Several lines of evidence support this hypothesis.
We use electrophysiology to evaluate how the brain makes sense of speech in noise and hone in on detailed aspects of how consonants are encoded. In particular, we ask how fast the response is, how well key harmonic frequencies are encoded, and how consistently the brain responds.
This method represents a powerful approach to distinguish which children are likely to succeed in the literacy development process and identify a smaller group of candidates for in-depth evaluation and treatment.