A noninvasive hearing test may assist with early detection and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders, according to research published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
The authors note a strong connection between auditory dysfunction and autism, suggesting that hearing issues identified at birth can be a clue to monitor the child for autism. Uncovering hearing issues would also improve outcomes for all children because the finding would trigger early interventions.
“We know the vast majority of people with autism have some type of hearing problem connected to abnormalities in the brain,” says Randy Kulesza, Jr., PhD, professor of anatomy at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. “That means these issues will be present and detectable at birth.”
Kulesza acknowledges that while the vast majority of people with autism have hearing issues, not everyone with hearing issues has autism. Still, he says early detection would benefit both groups.
“Especially early in life, the brain is very plastic, meaning the right early interventions can literally train out those deficits. The person might not be perfectly neuro-typical, but such interventions can improve function,” says Kulesza.
He also notes that hearing is critical to speech-language development, which in turn, also affects social-emotional development. By optimizing auditory function, the person’s quality of life can be profoundly better.
Currently, newborn babies have their hearing tested. However, Kulesza says those tests merely assess whether the child can hear on a pass/fail basis. He says stapedial reflex testing provides much more information about the types of dysfunction that may be present.