Effect of attentional state on frequency discrimination: a comparison of children with ADHD on and off medication.
Sutcliffe PA., Bishop DVM., Houghton S., Taylor M.
Debate continues over the hypothesis that children with language or literacy difficulties have a genuine auditory processing deficit. Several recent studies have reported deficits in frequency discrimination (FD), but it is unclear whether these are genuine perceptual impairments or reflective of the comorbid attentional problems that exist in many children with language and literacy difficulties. The present study investigated FD in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when their attentional state was altered with stimulant medication. Auditory thresholds were obtained using FD and frequency modulation detection (FM) tasks. In the FD task, participants judged which of 2 pairs contained a high-low frequency sound, and in the FM task, children judged which of two tones "wobbled" (i.e., modulated). Children with ADHD had significantly poorer and more variable FD performance when off compared to on stimulant medication, and did significantly worse than controls on all FD runs when off but not on stimulant medication. However, children with ADHD did not differ from controls on the FM task. These findings demonstrate that certain auditory discrimination tasks are influenced by the child's attentional status. In addition, significant relationships between FD and measures of language and reading were abolished when comorbid attentional difficulties were taken into account. The study has implications for design and interpretation of studies investigating links between auditory discrimination and difficulties in language and literacy.