Children with autism often have inner ear impairments which can hamper their ability to recognize speech – a finding that could one day be used to identify those at risk for developing the disorder at an early age.
The findings, which were published in the journal Autism Research, are based on a study of hearing ability in a group of children, ages 6 and 17, half of whom were diagnosed with autism.
The researchers found that children with autism had difficulty hearing in a specific frequency that is important for speech processing. They also found a correlation between the degree of cochlear impairment and the severity of their symptoms.
“This study identifies a simple, safe and non-invasive method to screen for hearing impairments associated with autism in young children,” said researcher Dr Anne Luebke, Ph.D., associate professor at the University Medical Center. from Rochester. Departments of biomedical engineering and neuroscience.
“This technique can offer clinicians a new window into the disorder and allow us to intervene earlier and help achieve optimal results.”
While many signs of autism are present before the age of two, most children are not diagnosed until after the age of four, meaning that corrective therapies are started later, which delays their potential impact.
Because the hearing test is non-invasive, inexpensive, and does not require a verbal response, the technique could be used to screen infants, an approach the team is currently exploring.
“Hearing loss has long been associated with developmental delay and other problems, such as language deficits,” said Dr. Lisa Bennetto, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Rochester. “Although there is no association between hearing problems and autism, difficulty processing speech may contribute to some of the main symptoms of the disease.
“Early detection could help identify the risk of ASD and allow clinicians to intervene earlier. Additionally, these findings may inform the development of approaches to correct hearing loss with hearing aids or other devices that can. improve the range of sounds the ear can process. ”
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