Vocal clues can indicate infant autism

Katy Morton
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Autism can be detected by the unique noises babies make, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Memphis in Tennessee found that pre-verbal sounds made by young children with autism are distinctly different to typically developing children. They also found a difference in the sounds made by a child with language delay.

Steven Warren, professor of applied behavioural science and vice-researcher at the University of Kansas, said, 'A small number of studies previously suggested that children with autism have a markedly different vocal signature, but until now, we have been held back from using this knowledge in clinical applications by the lack of measurement technology.'

The team of researchers used automated vocal analysis technology to differentiate the sound patterns taken from recordings of 232 children aged one to four, made by parents at home.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on sounds associated with vocal development, in particular children's ability to make the right movements with their jaw and tongue to produce syllables.It found that autistic children had a reduced ability to produce well-formed syllables.

The researchers recommend that the new system, called Language Environment Analysis, be used to help paediatricians screen children for autism and determine if referral to a specialist for a full diagnosis is required.

Gina Gomez de la Cuesta, action research leader at the National Autistic Society said, 'Any tools that could help to identify speech and language difficulties at a younger age have the potential to help families, when used with professional guidance. However, there is no substitute for proper assessment by experienced and well-trained professionals. It should be remembered that every child is different and develops at their own pace.'

FURTHER INFORMATION

'Automated vocal analysis of naturalistic recordings from children with autism, language delay, and typical development' is at www.pnas.org.

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