Low receptivity to sounds maybe a sign of autism in babies


Life, Health

Infants less receptive to different sounds might be at risk of developing autism.

High-risk infants were less likely to turn their heads in response to spoken language than other developing infants. (Photo: Representational/Pixabay)

Washington: If an infant is less or unable to differentiate between varying speech patterns, he/she is likely to be at a higher risk of developing autism, suggested a new study. The findings of the study were published in Brain and Language.

"Humans are born with an astonishing ability to distinguish basic sound units that make up all of the world's languages," says Kristina Denisova, the study author.

"But why some infants at high familial risk for autism spectrum disorder are less likely to develop their language-specific competence in toddlerhood has remained a mystery."

Previously, Denisova in her studies showed that high-risk infants (those who had a sibling with autism) were less likely to turn their heads in response to spoken language than other developing infants.

She said, "Our team dissociated between head movements in infants at high vs. low familial risk for developing autism and detected the signal of future atypical development as early as 1-2 months after birth."

Research suggests that as an infant grows, future language development depends on the ability to distinguish sounds and elements of speech that are familiar vs. those that are novel including elements of pronunciation, such as stress patterns on different syllables.

For the study, researchers studied 52 9 to 10 month-old infants who heard speech with familiar and unfamiliar stress patterns while undergoing MRI. Half of the infants were found to be at high risk of autism.

They recorded the head movements throughout the scan and found that low-risk infants turned their heads more frequently while listening to speech with different syllabic patterns. While the high-risk infants did not. High-risk infants had significantly worse receptive language scores and the most atypical head-turning patterns on this task.

Those 9- to 10-month-olds who had more abnormal head-turning behaviour during exposure were more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder by age three.

"These findings regarding differences in early language processing in children at high familial risk for autism are intriguing and deserve replication and extension," said Agnes H. Whitaker, clinical professor at Columbia University.