Researchers have developed a small electronic device that can now screen children for autism. This small recorder fits into the upper pocket of a shirt and can analyze words the child says during the day. The device has a powerful software program that evaluates all the sound the child makes. The software program recognizes the words, syllables and processes sounds made only by the child being studied. The 12-hour daytime recordings are then analyzed to examine a child's natural speech. Parents return the recorder back to the company after the child has worn it for a day. Back at the company, the researchers analyze the recording for language development progress and degree of autism.
This research done by clinicians at University of Memphis recently analyzed more than three million syllabic sounds gathered from over 1,500 all-day recordings from 232 children ranging in age between 10 months to 4 years. The tests were undertaken in English, but the head of research, Dr. Oller said the technique could be applied to other languages. "It hasn't actually been tried yet, but there's every reason to think it should."
Oller, the head of the study, has extensively studied language learning and evolution, and has recognized how the structure of diverse syllables changes during a child's first four years of life. This knowledge led Oller to develop a device that could analyze speech.
Oller said, "Although clinicians have been saying for many years that they think that autistic kids sound strange when they talk, there's been no practical way to use vocalization as a part of the diagnostic or screening procedure in working with autism."
At present, the diagnosis of autism is based on a range of behaviors and speech impediment including how much a child talks by a certain age, whether they make eye contact and the degree of repetition in vocabulary.
"Autism is a multi-factorial disorder and it has many behavioral dimensions to consider. And vocalization is clearly an important one," said Oller. "But I certainly don't think it should be used exclusively."