Hearing management

Updated 29 November 2017

Hearing test may be early predictor of autism

A study has identified a simple, safe and noninvasive method to screen young children for hearing deficits that are associated with autism.

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A simple hearing test may help identify young children at risk for autism before they're old enough to speak, a new study suggests.

A new window into the disorder

Researchers from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, say they've identified an inner-ear problem in children with autism that may impair their ability to recognise 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.

Read: Loud noise may increase your heart disease risk

Autism spectrum disorder is characterised by impaired social-communication skills and restricted and repetitive behaviours. 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.

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.

Developmental delay

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.

Read: What can be done to help kids hear?

"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.

"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.

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.

Read more:

What is hearing loss?

Symptoms of hearing loss

Types of hearing loss

 

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Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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