Auditory processing delays in children with autism

Fast ForWord programs have been used extensively as an intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). A multi-site study determined that after Fast ForWord use, students with developmental delays made significant gains in their language ability suggesting that using the Fast ForWord products strengthened the students’ foundational skills and better positioned them to benefit from their classroom curriculum and function in society.

Research published in the January edition of the journal Autism Research found that children with autism spectrum disorders have an associated delay in auditory processing ability, which offers some additional insight into why Fast ForWord is such an effective intervention for these students. In the study, 25 children with autism spectrum disorders and 17 age-matched typically developing children were presented tones with frequencies of 200, 300, 500, and 1,000 Hz while whole-cortex magnetoencephalography (MEG) examined brain activity. The study found an average latency delay of 11 msec in children with ASD. Why is this important? From the study’s abstract: “The … latency delay indicates disruption of encoding simple sensory information.”

We would suggest these results indicate that a program like Fast ForWord that develops auditory processing abilities would be a successful intervention for children with ASD. The researchers were headed in a slightly different direction, however: they examined the predictive value of the auditory processing delay and determined that “a right-hemisphere M100 latency delay appears to be an electrophysiological endophenotype for autism.” In other words, brain imaging that identifies auditory processing delays may help with diagnosis of ASD in children.

From a Science Daily article about the research:

Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) process sound and language a fraction of a second slower than children without ASDs, and measuring magnetic signals that mark this delay may become a standardized way to diagnose autism.

Like many neurodevelopmental disorders, in the absence of objective biological measurements, psychologists and other caregivers rely on clinical judgments such as observations of behavior to diagnose ASDs, often not until a child reaches school age. If researchers can develop imaging results into standardized diagnostic tests, they may be able to diagnose ASDs as early as infancy, permitting possible earlier intervention with treatments. They also may be able to differentiate types of ASDs (classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome or other types) in individual patients.

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