Hearing well is crucial to speech development in young children. A new study suggests that a simple hearing test may help identify children at risk for autism.
Researchers from the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., say they've identified an inner-ear problem in children with autism that may impair their ability to recognize speech.
"This study identifies a simple, safe and noninvasive method to screen young children for hearing deficits that are associated with autism,” said study co-author Anne Luebke, an associate professor in the departments of biomedical engineering and neuroscience.
"This technique may provide clinicians a new window into the disorder and enable us to intervene earlier and help achieve optimal outcomes," she said in a university news release.
There are several methods for testing a child’s hearing depending on their age, development and health status.
For the study, Luebke and her colleagues tested the hearing of children between ages 6 and 17 with and without autism. Those with autism had hearing difficulty in a specific frequency (1-2 kilohertz, or kHz) that is important for processing speech.
The degree of hearing impairment was associated with the severity of autism symptoms, according to the study.
Hearing "impairment has long been associated with developmental delay and other problems, such as language deficits," said study co-author Loisa Bennetto, an associate professor of clinical and social sciences in psychology.
"While there is no association between hearing problems and autism, difficulty in processing speech may contribute to some of the core symptoms of the disease," Bennetto said.
If future research confirms the findings, the study authors say the screening could help identify children at risk for autism earlier and perhaps get them services sooner.
The researchers suggested that if treatments could start sooner, they might have a larger impact, as the child grows older.
"Additionally, these findings can inform the development of approaches to correct auditory impairment with hearing aids or other devices that can improve the range of sounds the ear can process," Bennetto said.
According to kidshealth.org, there are symptoms of hearing loss you can look for in newborns and older children:
Even if your newborn passes the hearing screening, continue to watch for signs that hearing is normal. Some hearing milestones your child should reach in the first year of life:
• Most newborn infants startle or "jump" to sudden loud noises.
• By 3 months, a baby usually recognizes a parent's voice.
• By 6 months, a baby can usually turn his or her eyes or head toward a sound.
• By 12 months, a baby can usually imitate some sounds and produce a few words, such as "Mama" or "bye-bye."
As your baby grows into a toddler, signs of a hearing loss may include:
• Limited, poor, or no speech
• Frequently inattentive
• Difficulty learning
• Seems to need higher TV volume
• Fails to respond to conversation-level speech or answers inappropriately to speech
• Fails to respond to his or her name or easily frustrated when there's a lot of background noise
The hearing test is noninvasive, inexpensive and does not require a child to respond verbally, so it could be adapted to screen infants, the researchers said.
The study was published in the journal Autism Research.
Story sources: Robert Preidt, http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/news/20160801/hearing-test-may-predict-autism-risk-sooner-study