Hearing is one of many compromised processes found in children with autism spectrum (ASD). Behavioral, cognitive, and developmental markers are often used in the diagnosis of ASD, but some children are first referred for examination because of a perceived hearing loss. When infants and toddlers do not respond to vocal stimuli, parents may assume that their hearing is impaired. However, according to new research, the hearing of children with ASD may be compromised because of the presence of visual stimuli and an attention shifting deficit.
Tatiana A. Stroganova of the MEG Centre at the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education in Russia recently conducted a study of auditory response on a sample of young children with and without ASD. Theories on how ASD affects neurological processes suggest that attention shifting and attentional dysregulation are compromised. More specifically, when a child with ASD is focused on a specific stimulus, they have difficulty shifting their attention to any other co-occurring stimuli, whether it is visual or auditory.
Stroganova’s study involved presenting the children with clicks of certain duration and volume in each of their ears at separate times. A visual stimulus was present at the time of the auditory test and Stroganova assessed how well the children interpreted and responded to the clicks while focusing on the stimulus. She found that in typically developing children (TD), the response to the clicks was stronger and greater than the response found in the children with ASD. Further, the children with ASD showed increased impairments when the clicks were administered in the left ear.
This suggests that the right-lateralized neurological regions which affect attention shifting and arousal may be impaired in children with ASD. This deficit could also influence sensory processes and even behavior. Interestingly, the right ear click responses were relatively similar for children from both the TD and ASD groups. Although more work needs to be done, this study demonstrates that identification of early neurological impairment may be a novel and beneficial way to identify which children may be at risk for ASD. Stroganova concluded, “Our findings suggest that some right-lateralized brain systems that are crucially important for arousal and attention re-orienting are compromised in individuals with autism.”
Stroganova, T.A., Kozunov, V.V., Posikera, I.N., Galuta, I.A., Gratchev, V.V., et al. (2013). Abnormal pre-attentive arousal in young children with autism spectrum disorder contributes to their atypical auditory behavior: An ERP study. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69100. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069100
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