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Children With Reading Difficulty Rely on Unimodal Neural Processing for Phonemic Awareness

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Children With Reading Difficulty Rely on Unimodal Neural Processing for Phonemic Awareness

Melissa Randazzo et al. Front Hum Neurosci.

Abstract

Phonological awareness skills in children with reading difficulty (RD) may reflect impaired automatic integration of orthographic and phonological representations. However, little is known about the underlying neural mechanisms involved in phonological awareness for children with RD. Eighteen children with RD, ages 9-13, participated in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study designed to assess the relationship of two constructs of phonological awareness, phoneme synthesis, and phoneme analysis, with crossmodal rhyme judgment. Participants completed a rhyme judgment task presented in two modality conditions; unimodal auditory only and crossmodal audiovisual. Measures of phonological awareness were correlated with unimodal, but not crossmodal, lexical processing. Moreover, these relationships were found only in unisensory brain regions, and not in multisensory brain areas. The results of this study suggest that children with RD rely on unimodal representations and unisensory brain areas, and provide insight into the role of phonemic awareness in mapping between auditory and visual modalities during literacy acquisition.

Keywords: audiovisual integration; crossmodal integration; dyslexia; fMRI—functional magnetic resonance imaging; phonemic awareness; reading difficulty.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Task diagram for the AV Crossmodal task (A) and AA Unimodal task (B).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Anatomical extents of the atlas-based anatomical definitions of the masks used to constrain region of interest (ROI) definitions for fusiform gyrus (FG; red), superior temporal gyrus (STG; green), superior temporal sulcus (STS; blue) and inferior parietal lobule (IPL; magenta). Voxels falling within each of these regions that showed greater activity for lexical trials vs. baseline for a participant were included in that participant’s ROI for that anatomical label.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Spatial distribution of voxels demonstrating group-level lexicality effects (contrast of Lexical vs. Fixation trials) in the AV Crossmodal task (red) and AA Unimodal task (green). Overlapping modality effects appear in yellow. Clusters are extent-corrected at an FWE significance level of p < 0.05, with an uncorrected voxel-wise p < 0.001.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Spatial distribution of voxels demonstrating significantly greater lexicality effects in the Unimodal task (green) vs. the Crossmodal task, and demonstrating significantly greater lexicality effects in the Crossmodal task (red) vs. the Unimodal task. Clusters are extent-corrected at an FWE significance level of p < 0.05, with an uncorrected voxel-wise p < 0.001.
Figure 5
Figure 5
Scatterplot diagram of ROI activations as a function of Blending scores. Significant regression lines are capped with asterisks.
Figure 6
Figure 6
Scatterplot diagram of ROI activations as a function of Elision scores. Significant regression lines are capped with asterisks.

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