New research shows that a simple non-invasive hearing test early in life could predict the diagnosis of autism. The results of this study, titled ‘Structural and Functional Aberrations of the Auditory Brainstem in Autism Spectrum Disorder’, is published in the latest issue of the The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA).
At present diagnosis of autism is usually made around the age of four using tests that need speech abilities. Autism is part of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that has a variety of manifestations. This new study from the team at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Pennsylvania says that there could be hearing problems in these children much before they learn to speak. These can be detected using tests.
The test that the researchers have suggested is called the stapedial reflex testing or the acoustic reflex testing. This test measures the changes in pressure of the middle ear in response to sounds. This can assess the sensitivity of the patient to a wide range of sound frequencies. Randy Kulesza, professor of anatomy and team leader said in a statement, “Often people with autism suffer from hypersensitivity, meaning even relatively quiet sounds can feel like overwhelming noise… If parents and physicians understand that from the start, they can work to acclimate the child’s sensitivity and make his or her experience of the world much less intense and frightening.”
According to Kulesza, newborns these days have their hearing tested and the results are usually binary saying if the child can hear or not. He explained that this stapedial reflex testing can provide a deeper understanding of various types of dysfunctions. This would mean that interventions can be started earlier before the symptoms appear. “Especially early in life, the brain is very plastic, meaning the right early interventions can literally train out those deficits,” Kulesza explained. “The person might not be perfectly neuro-typical but such interventions can improve function,” said Kulesza.
The study team noted that children with ASD have problems with their hearing. Hearing is an important part of speech-language development which further affects the social-emotional development of the child. So if the hearing functions are addressed early, the quality of life of the child later could be improved, they suggest.
Kulesza said more research in this area is needed to find the auditory interventions that could help these children. He added that acoustic reflex testing at present is not a diagnostic tool for detecting ASD. However if a child has tested positive on this, they may be started on early interventions so that their potentials are maximised.