Atypical speech production of multisyllabic words and phrases by children with developmental dyslexia.
The prevalent "core phonological deficit" model of dyslexia proposes that the reading and spelling difficulties characterizing affected children stem from prior developmental difficulties in processing speech sound structure, for example, perceiving and identifying syllable stress patterns, syllables, rhymes and phonemes. Yet spoken word production appears normal. This suggests an unexpected disconnect between speech input and speech output processes. Here we investigated the output side of this disconnect from a speech rhythm perspective by measuring the speech amplitude envelope (AE) of multisyllabic spoken phrases. The speech AE contains crucial information regarding stress patterns, speech rate, tonal contrasts and intonational information. We created a novel computerized speech copying task in which participants copied aloud familiar spoken targets like "Aladdin." Seventy-five children with and without dyslexia were tested, some of whom were also receiving an oral intervention designed to enhance multi-syllabic processing. Similarity of the child's productions to the target AE was computed using correlation and mutual information metrics. Similarity of pitch contour, another acoustic cue to speech rhythm, was used for control analyses. Children with dyslexia were significantly worse at producing the multi-syllabic targets as indexed by both similarity metrics for computing the AE. However, children with dyslexia were not different from control children in producing pitch contours. Accordingly, the spoken production of multisyllabic phrases by children with dyslexia is atypical regarding the AE. Children with dyslexia may not appear to listeners to exhibit speech production difficulties because their pitch contours are intact. RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS: Speech production of syllable stress patterns is atypical in children with dyslexia. Children with dyslexia are significantly worse at producing the amplitude envelope of multi-syllabic targets compared to both age-matched and reading-level-matched control children. No group differences were found for pitch contour production between children with dyslexia and age-matched control children. It may be difficult to detect speech output problems in dyslexia as pitch contours are relatively accurate.
Funder: Yidan Prize Foundation
Science Foundation Ireland (13/RC/2106_P2)