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Speech Processing and Autism

According to new research by the University of Rochester Medical Center Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience, some children with autism may have reduced otoacoustic emissions at a frequency that inhibits speech processing.  Otoacoustic emissions are sounds given off by the inner ear when it is stimulated by a sound.  When the inner ear is stimulated the tiny hairs in the inner ear vibrate and give off a nearly inaudible sound that echoes back into the middle ear.  This sound can be measured by a small probe inserted into the ear canal. Researcher found that children with autism had more difficulty discriminating between similar sounds in the frequency range of 1000-2000 Hz.  This is an important range for speech processing.  The sounds ‘p’, ‘b’, ‘g’, ‘ch’ and ‘sh’ are in that frequency range.  If children are missing hearing those sounds or are unable to process those sounds in a typical way, it may be affecting the way they are able to learn language.  This study may lead to important identification and treatment of hearing loss in children in ASD.

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