A The study, published July 14 in PLOS Biology, centers on the child’s ability to decipher speech — specifically consonants — in a chaotic, noisy environment. Preliterate children whose brains inefficiently process speech against a background of noise are more likely than their peers to have trouble with reading and language development when they reach school age, the researchers found.
This newfound link between the brain’s ability to process spoken language in noise and reading skill in pre-readers “provides a biological looking glass into a child’s future literacy,” said study senior author Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.
“There are excellent interventions we can give to struggling readers during crucial pre-school years, but the earlier the better,” said Kraus, a professor of communication sciences, neurobiology and physiology in the School of Communication. “The challenge has been to identify which children are candidates for these interventions, and now we have discovered a way."