To improve their communication prospects, researchers suggest the deficiency be identified at a young age and treated with hearing technology, such as hearing aids, to improve the range of sounds the ear can process.
The findings, which were published in the journal Autism Research, used a test is similar to the hearing screening test for newborns, measuring ‘otoacoustic emissions.’
In a healthy ear, when responding to sound, the outer hair cells in the inner ear emit sound. With impaired cells, there is no sound emission (indicating that the cochlear function is impaired). In the test, a tiny, and highly sensitive microphone is used which can detect the sound emissions of the hair cells in the cochlear.
The new technique could instead provide clinicians “a new window into the disorder and enable us to intervene earlier and help achieve optimal outcomes,” according to co-author of the study, Anne Luebke, PhD.
Early detection using the measuring of otoacoustic emissions means there could be an earlier introduction of certain therapies, which might potentially have a positive impact on a child’s development. It could also bring about the introduction of hearing aids (or other devices), which can improve the range of sounds the ear can process, thus improving the communication prospects for the child.
“ASD can have many implications for social skills, communication, and speech and language development,” Shawna Lee, AuD, CCC-A, FAAA says. “Hearing loss, whether transient or permanent, can also have similar effects, especially when children are young. Awareness of the similarities can be key in reducing the risk of diagnostic overshadowing or early misdiagnosis with children who struggle with ASD, hearing loss, or both. Children diagnosed with ASD are as unique as their fingerprints when it comes to the presentation of symptoms, behaviors, cognitive function, and their developmental needs. Research shows that early intervention is highly correlated with better outcomes.”
During the study, the research team tested the hearing of children and young people with ASD aged between 6 and 17. The team is now exploring the potential for using the test to screen infants.
As the test is non-invasive, and does not require subjects to respond verbally, there is hope that this could prove to be a useful test in screening from an early age.