A test used in universal newborn hearing screenings known as the auditory brainstem response may one day also be used to detect autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children.
What is the Auditory Brainstem Response Test?
The ABR test measures how well a baby’s inner ear and brain respond to sound. To perform the test, doctors cover the newborn’s ears with earphones and play a series of very soft clicks. At the same time, electrodes on the baby’s forehead and neck measure their brainwave activity as it responds to the sounds. A computer then records their responses and compares them against set response ranges.
How Can a Hearing Test Detect Autism?
Children with ASD have been shown to have slow brain responses to sound. However, most children aren’t evaluated for autism until they are at least two years old. Researchers were curious if ABR testing scores at birth would show a link to children who later developed ASD.
To figure this out, they looked at ABR data on 139,154 newborns from their Universal Newborn Hearing Screening, including 321 newborns who were later diagnosed with ASD. They found that newborns who were later diagnosed with autism also had slower brain responses to sounds.
While it’s too soon to recommend ABR as a diagnostic tool for ASD, it does offer hope that early detection and, therefore early intervention will be possible sometime in the near future.
The Benefits of Newborn Hearing Screening
Even though we are a way off from using newborn hearing screenings to diagnose ASD, their contribution to children’s health is already invaluable.
Early diagnosis and intervention with hearing aids or cochlear implants have been shown to help children with hearing loss meet the same developmental milestones that their peers with normal hearing do. Without treatment, children who struggle to hear may experience delays in:
- Speech and language
- Social skills
- Academic performance at Phillips Elementary or other schools
While newborn screenings catch the majority of hearing loss in children, some don’t experience symptoms until they are older. If you suspect your child has trouble hearing, call Hampton Roads ENT ~ Allergy today to speak with an expert or schedule an appointment for a hearing test.