A hearing test to detect autism from birth



  • Performed on all infants to detect hearing problems, tests that measure the brain stem ABR auditory response can help detect autism early.

Still mistakenly considered a mental illness, autism is actually an early brain development disorder, particularly affecting the formation of neural connections. Characterized by qualitative alterations in social interactions, communication problems and behavioral disturbances, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often associated with hearing problems, which can exacerbate communication problems and interfere with language skills. Early assessment of these hearing disorders is therefore a determining factor in the management of autism.

Identify early indicators of autism

This discovery by researchers at the University of Miami and Harvard Medical School could help detect early indicators of autism, right from birth. In the review Research on autism, explain that it is possible to screen for ASD by studying responses to the standard hearing test given to newborns in the maternity hospital to detect possible hearing loss. These tests work by measuring the brain stem auditory response (ABR), which measures how a child’s inner ear and brain respond to sounds.

“We are not yet at the point where we are telling doctors to use ABR testing as a determinant of autism in children,” shade Elizabeth Simpson, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study. But let’s say this study shows promising direction in how ABR testing can be used as a method to accurately detect autism at birth. “

For authors it is above all a file “additional tool” screening that could “clarify the diagnostic clues” in case of suspected ASD in older children.

Slower brain responses

To estimate the relevance of autism screening using ABR tests, the researchers analyzed nearly 140,000 hearing recordings made with newborns in Florida. Typically performed in maternity hospitals, these tests allow a computer to record auditory nerve activity in babies exposed to sounds transmitted by electrodes placed on the scalp. The sound of the test is very light and can be performed while babies sleep.

They then compared the data with documents from the Florida Department of Education showing that the children had developmental disabilities.

They found that infants who were later diagnosed with autism had slower brain responses to sounds during their ABR tests. “We found 321 children who had ABR testing when they were infants and were subsequently diagnosed with autism in preschool.”, specifies Pr Simpson.

Now, the researchers hope they can refine the ABR test results so that doctors can use them not only to better understand a newborn’s hearing and the risk of autism, but also other potential developmental problems such as oral and speech disorders. as well as sudden infant death syndrome.

“We know that autism spectrum disorders are related to the way children process sounds, so even if a child’s hearing is normal, it can be treated differently. adds Professor Simpson. With a better understanding of how ABR testing can be used to identify children at risk, we can identify children who may be at risk. “

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