Reading and speech-in-noise perception, fundamental aspects of human communication, have been linked to neural indices of auditory brainstem function. However, how these factors interact is currently unclear. Multivariate analysis methods (structural equation modeling) were employed to delineate and quantify the relationships among factors that relate to successful reading and speech in noise perception in children. Neural measures of subcortical speech encoding that reflect the utilization of stimulus regularities, differentiation of stop consonants, and robustness of neural synchrony predicted 73% of the variance in reading scores. A different combination of neural measures, specifically, utilization of stimulus regularities, strength of encoding of lower harmonics, and the extent of noise-induced timing delays uniquely predicted 56% of the variance in speech-in-noise perception measures. The neural measures relating to reading and speech-in-noise perception were substantially non-overlapping and resulted in poor fitting models when substituted for each other, thereby suggesting distinct neural signatures for the two skills. When phonological processing and working memory measures were added to the models, brainstem measures still uniquely predicted variance in reading ability and speech-in-noise perception, highlighting the robustness of the relationship between subcortical auditory function and these skills. The current study suggests that objective neural markers may prove valuable in the assessment of reading or speech-in-noise abilities in children.
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