Multimodal imaging of temporal processing in typical and atypical language development


New approaches to understanding language and reading acquisition propose that the human brain’s ability to synchronize its neural firing rate to syllable‐length linguistic units may be important to children’s ability to acquire human language. Yet, little evidence from brain imaging studies has been available to support this proposal. Here, we summarize three recent brain imaging (functional near‐infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and magnetoencephalography (MEG)) studies from our laboratories with young English‐speaking children (aged 6–12 years). In the first study (fNIRS), we used an auditory beat perception task to show that, in children, the left superior temporal gyrus (STG) responds preferentially to rhythmic beats at 1.5 Hz. In the second study (fMRI), we found correlations between children’s amplitude rise–time sensitivity, phonological awareness, and brain activation in the left STG. In the third study (MEG), typically developing children outperformed children with autism spectrum disorder in extracting words from rhythmically rich foreign speech and displayed different brain activation during the learning phase. The overall findings suggest that the efficiency with which left temporal regions process slow temporal (rhythmic) information may be important for gains in language and reading proficiency. These findings carry implications for better understanding of the brain’s mechanisms that support language and reading acquisition during both typical and atypical development.

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences