As many as one in ten children have the poor reading and spelling skills that comprise developmental dyslexia. It is widely accepted that there is a neurological basis;however, the nature of that basis is hotly debated. Nevertheless, one consistent view is that poor phonological processing-the ability to access and manipulate the sound units of language-is involved in dyslexia. Indeed, a majority of children with reading deficits exhibit difficulties on an array of phonological processing tasks. A growing body of research has discovered that speech-sound transcription, as measured by electrophysiology, shows striking relationships with phonological processing skills and reading ability in school-age children. As such, we have developed a suite of subcortical and cortical physiological tests that probe some of the core deficits that researchers have postulated as the root elements of poor phonological processing. We will target the subcortical processing of time-varying signals and stimulus regularities, and cortical hemispheric specialization to both fast and slow signals. In a longitudinal cohort of four- to eight-year-olds, we will model the normal neurological speech transcription process, quantify its development, and examine its relationship with the development of literacy-related skills. Our intention is that by leveraging these electrophysiological probes to a pre-reading age group, a biomarker, in preschoolers, may be found that predicts a child's eventual reading skill as he/she progresses through the primary grades. If such a biomarker is found, it would pave the way for earlier and more effectively targeted intervention.

Public Health Relevance

As objective neurophysiological measures of literacy become available, a logical step is to apply what has been learned about subcortical and cortical physiology and their relationships with reading to young pre- readers. The outcome of the proposed work will be a deeper understanding of the biological underpinnings of literacy, particularly in pre-literate children, and a means to exploit objective biological responses as biomarkers of future literacy. This outcome will positively impact our understanding of the core deficits leading to poor reading, and has the potential to spur early intervention programs to head off the potential onset of developmental dyslexia.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-L (04))
Program Officer
Miller, Brett
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Northwestern University at Chicago
Other Health Professions
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Lam, Silvia Siu-Yin; White-Schwoch, Travis; Zecker, Steven G et al. (2017) Neural stability: A reflection of automaticity in reading. Neuropsychologia 103:162-167
White-Schwoch, Travis; Nicol, Trent; Warrier, Catherine M et al. (2017) Individual Differences in Human Auditory Processing: Insights From Single-Trial Auditory Midbrain Activity in an Animal Model. Cereb Cortex 27:5095-5115
Thompson, Elaine C; Woodruff Carr, Kali; White-Schwoch, Travis et al. (2017) Individual differences in speech-in-noise perception parallel neural speech processing and attention in preschoolers. Hear Res 344:148-157
Carr, Kali Woodruff; Tierney, Adam; White-Schwoch, Travis et al. (2016) Intertrial auditory neural stability supports beat synchronization in preschoolers. Dev Cogn Neurosci 17:76-82
Thompson, Elaine C; Woodruff Carr, Kali; White-Schwoch, Travis et al. (2016) Hemispheric Asymmetry of Endogenous Neural Oscillations in Young Children: Implications for Hearing Speech In Noise. Sci Rep 6:19737
Skoe, Erika; Krizman, Jennifer; Anderson, Samira et al. (2015) Stability and plasticity of auditory brainstem function across the lifespan. Cereb Cortex 25:1415-26
Kraus, Nina; White-Schwoch, Travis (2015) Unraveling the Biology of Auditory Learning: A Cognitive-Sensorimotor-Reward Framework. Trends Cogn Sci 19:642-654
White-Schwoch, Travis; Woodruff Carr, Kali; Thompson, Elaine C et al. (2015) Auditory Processing in Noise: A Preschool Biomarker for Literacy. PLoS Biol 13:e1002196
White-Schwoch, Travis; Davies, Evan C; Thompson, Elaine C et al. (2015) Auditory-neurophysiological responses to speech during early childhood: Effects of background noise. Hear Res 328:34-47
Spitzer, Emily; White-Schwoch, Travis; Carr, Kali Woodruff et al. (2015) Continued maturation of the click-evoked auditory brainstem response in preschoolers. J Am Acad Audiol 26:30-5

Showing the most recent 10 out of 14 publications