Hearing tests are fairly common in schools to help detect hearing loss in younger children, but did you know that a noninvasive hearing test may also be able to assist in early detection of autism spectrum disorders? According to research conducted by the American Osteopathic Association, there is a strong connection between auditory issues and autism, which means that hearing issues at birth may help healthcare providers detect potential autism spectrum disorders in young children.
The researchers state that a majority of people with autism have some form of hearing difficulties, which are often connected to developmental issues within the brain itself. Such issues are very likely to exist at birth and be detectable soon after, which could aid in early diagnoses of autism.
That being said, while many people with autism have hearing difficulties, not everyone with hearing issues has an autism spectrum disorder. However, researchers believe that early detection would benefit both groups of people – those with autism and those with hearing difficulties – as this would allow for early interventions and treatments for these children.
Since the brain is very adaptable early in life, early interventions can help people with hearing loss or autism develop brain regions for better functioning than they would have if left to develop naturally. Especially since hearing is a critical aspect of speech and language development (which also affects socio-emotional development) early intervention can help optimize all of these functions. Ultimately, this can provide a child with a higher quality of life in the long-term.
The Future Of Infant Hearing Testing
Children born in US hospitals generally have their hearing tested soon after birth. However, these tests are usually conducted on a pass/fail basis and provide little information about the child’s overall hearing health.
Another form of hearing testing, known as stapedial reflex testing, has the potential to provide much more information about the different hearing issues that a child might have. Also known as acoustic reflex testing, stapedial reflex testing can measure the pressure changes that occur within the middle ear in response to noise stimuli. Using this pressure gauge, medical professionals can assess a child’s sensitivity and response time to different sound frequencies, which can offer significant insight into any hearing problems they may have.
Many people with autism suffer from something known as hypersensitivity, which essentially means that even somewhat quiet sounds can be perceived as an overwhelmingly loud noise. Using stapedial reflex testing, medical professionals can determine how sensitive someone’s ears are to these different frequencies, which can help identify potential hypersensitivity at a young age. Since this can serve as an early sign of autism spectrum disorders, the potential benefits this could offer young children are huge.
That being said, more research is needed to better understand the potential interventions that could be employed as a result of this additional testing. Since medical professionals do not want to cause undue stress to parents and children, the researchers don’t want to promote stapedial reflex testing as a diagnostic tool for autism, but rather as an opportunity to understand if a child has an auditory difficulties so interventions can be started early to give the child the highest possible quality of life.