A comparative study of speech perception in young severely retarded children and normally developing infants


The discrimination of minimally paired speech sounds by seven retarded children with a mean age of 3 years, 2 months and a mean IQ of 38.4 was compared with the discrimination performance of eight normally developing 7-month-old infants. Children and infants were tested using the Visually Reinforced Infant Speech Discrimination (VRISD) paradigm in which they were taught to respond with a head turn to a change in a repeating background auditory stimulus. Responses were reinforced by activation of an animated toy. All children proved to be conditionable and both groups evidenced discrimination of the speech contrasts tested. The data suggest that the retarded children have more difficulty processing a contrast cued by rapid spectral changes (often associated with consonant discrimination) than they do a contrast cued by steady-state spectral information (often associated with the perception of slowly articulated vowels). The normally developing infants did not find rapid spectral cues more difficult than steady-state cues. These results parallel those of Tallal (1976) who found that dynamic cues were specifically difficult for dysphasic children (with normal nonverbal intelligence), but not for linguistically-normal elementary school children.

Publication Title

Journal of Speech and Hearing Research