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A hearing test at birth aid 'could aid in early diagnosis of autism'

Could a hearing test in newborns help an early diagnosis if autism? [Photo: Getty]
Could a hearing test in newborns help an early diagnosis if autism? [Photo: Getty]

A simple non-invasive hearing test just after birth could aid in the early detection and diagnosis of autism, new research reveals.

At the moment, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are usually diagnosed at around the age of four using tests that focus largely on speech.

But a new study, by researchers from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in the US, believe early diagnosis of the condition could be aided by the detection of hearing issues in babies.

The research, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA), suggests there could be hearing problems in children diagnosed with autism much earlier than they learn to speak and these can be detected using tests.

The tests scientists suggest are known as stapedial reflex testing, also known as acoustic reflex testing.

The test will measure pressure changes in the middle ear in response to sounds and assesses a person’s sensitivity and response times to a number of frequencies.

“Often people with autism suffer from hypersensitivity, meaning even relatively quiet sounds can feel like overwhelming noise,” Randy Kulesza, professor of anatomy at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine said in a statement.

“If parents and physicians understand that from the start, they can work to acclimate the child’s sensitivity and make his or her experience of the world much less intense and frightening.”

Though newborns do currently have their hearing tested Kulesza explains that the tests are only conducted on a pass/fail basis to assess whether a baby can hear.

But stapedial reflex testing could provide more detailed information about the types of dysfunction that therefore could enable treatments to begin well before symptoms develop.

The study team also noted that hearing is critical to speech-language development, which can in turn also affect social-emotional development, something many children with ASD can struggle with.

So if the hearing problems are addressed early, the quality of life of the child later could be improved, researchers suggest.

But parents shouldn’t panic if their babies do fail an early hearing test as researchers also noted that at present acoustic reflex testing is not a diagnostic tool for diagnosing ASD.

However if a child has tested positive, they could be started on early interventions, which could maximise their potential.

An early diagnosis of autism could help improve children’s potential [Photo: Getty]
An early diagnosis of autism could help improve children’s potential [Photo: Getty]

According to the NHS, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.

“In children with ASD, the symptoms are present before three years of age, although a diagnosis can sometimes be made after the age of three,” the site reads.

It goes on to explain that some children with ASD don’t babble or use other vocal sounds, while older children may have problems using non-verbal behaviours to interact with others for example with eye contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures.

“Children with ASD may also lack awareness of and interest in other children. They’ll often either gravitate to older or younger children, rather than interacting with children of the same age. They tend to play alone,” the site continues.

It’s estimated that about one in every 100 people in the UK has ASD. More boys are diagnosed with the condition than girls.

If you’re worried that your child is showing signs or symptoms of ASD visit your GP or visit The National Austistic Society’s website for more information.

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