STUDY: Simple Hearing Test May Predict Autism Risk Sooner

African American child with natural hair outsideA simple hearing test may help identify young children at risk for autism before they’re old enough to speak, a new study suggests.

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.

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“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.

Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by impaired social-communication skills and restricted and repetitive behaviors. While many signs of autism appear before age 2, most children aren’t diagnosed until after age 4, the researchers said. They suggested that if treatments could start sooner they might have more impact.

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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.