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Vocal Profiling Leads to Early Autism Diagnosis

According to a new study, vocal profiling may be the wave of the future in diagnosing children with autism spectrum disorder.

A team of researchers led by D Kimbrough Oller, professor and chair of excellence in audiology and speech pathology at the University of Memphis, gathered speech pattern data to voice analyze children in their home environments.

The recordings were obtained through the use of a battery operated device called a Language Environment Analysis system, or LENA.
The recordings came from 1,486 all-day recordings of children from the ages of 10 months to 4 years; they were able to garner 3.1 million utterances from 232 children.

LENA interpreted those utterances through 12 different acoustic parameters, one of which analyzed the children’s ability to form syllables while rapidly moving the jaw.  By the end of the study, researchers determined that the device could detect autism spectrum disorders with 86% accuracy. 

In the study article, which is currently being published in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, researchers say they used the resulting data “to show it is possible to track linguistic development with totally automated procedures and to differentiate recordings from typically developing children and children with language related disorders.”

According to WebMD, co-researcher Steven F. Warren, professor of applied behavioral science and vice provost for research at the University of Kansas, study results support the assertion that the device could make it possible to diagnose children much sooner.  Currently, the average age a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders is 5.7 years.  Warren suggests that LENA may make it possible to detect autism in children as young as 18 months of age.
According to the Autism Society of America, autism spectrum disorder symptoms can range from mere social awkwardness to a complete inability to communicate.  In a 2009 CDC report, researchers state that the prevalence of autism has risen to 1 in every 110 births in the United States.  For boys, the rate jumps to 1 in 70.