By analysing a young child’s voice, autism can be diagnosed early, reports the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Autism is one of the more complicated and medically unexplained developmental disorders. Abnormal brain function results in a wide spectrum of autistic symptoms and behaviours such as: flapping hands, frequent fits of hysteria or aggression, shrill screaming (for no good reason), spinning different objects, echolalia (repeating previously heard phrases, phrases inappropriate to the situation).

Often, from the beginning of their lives, autistic children do not react with liveliness to contact with their parents, sometimes they do not tolerate any caresses, although this is not the rule.

The disorder occurs once in 500 people, four times more often in boys than girls. Autism affects brain development in the areas of reasoning, social contact and communication. Children and adults with autism usually have difficulty communicating in groups and with shared activities. In some cases, aggression and/or self-harm may be present.

US researchers carefully analysed nearly 1,500 24-hour recordings of noises made by 232 children aged between 10 months and four years. They focused on 12 specific sound parameters related to speech development – the most important of which was syllabification, i.e. the children’s ability to produce well-formed syllables through rapid movements of the mandible and tongue. For autistic children, speech parameters specifically deviated from the age-appropriate norm.

Differences picked up by the automated voice analysis technique (LENA system) allowed the diagnosis of autism with an accuracy of up to 86 per cent. As the method is not based on the analysis of words, but the way sounds are produced, it can be used in any country, regardless of language. According to Professor Steven Warren of the University of Kansas, who took part in the study, the introduction of the method on a wider scale could allow screening and early detection of children with suspected autism. This would enable them to be treated earlier and more effectively. (PAP)