Voice technology ‘could help detect autism’

Young children with autism can be identified by listening to the noises they make, say US scientists.Research suggests the babbling of infants with autism differs from that of children without it. The differences were spotted with 86% accuracy using automated vocal analysis technology.Vocal characteristics are not currently used for diagnosing autism, even though the link has been suggested before.The study is in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Autism is the name given to a group, or “spectrum”, of lifelong developmental conditions characterised by an inability to communicate with or relate to others, a lack of social skills, obsessional traits, and repetitive behaviour.Many more genes linked to autism Autism link with migrant parents An estimated 500,000 people in the UK are believed to be affected by autism.

The US scientists analysed nearly 1,500 day-long vocal soundtracks from battery-powered recorders attached to the clothing of 232 children aged between 10 months and 4 years.In total more than three million individual child utterances were used in the research, the study notes.The study focused on 12 specific sound parameters associated with vocal development.

 The most important were those involving “syllabification” – the ability of children to produce well-formed syllables with rapid movements of the jaw and tongue.Experts believe these sounds form the foundation of words.

In autistic children up to four years old, there was a mismatch between the expected parameter values and age.Professor Steven Warren, an expert in autism spectrum disorders at the University of Kansas, US, who took part in the study, said: “This technology could help paediatricians screen children for ASD (autism spectrum disorder) to determine if a referral to a specialist for a full diagnosis is required and get those children into earlier and more effective treatments.”

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