In the United States, children with autism spectrum disorders are usually diagnosed at around 5 and a half. Thanks to a new vocal analysis system, such a diagnosis could now be made as early as 18 months.
How? Researchers can actually listen for signs of autism in the quality of babbles and coos from young toddlers.
In a study released by the University of Memphis and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists claim that they've designed a computer program that can distinguish between the speech of normal children and those with autism with more than 85 percent accuracy.
Scientists have long known that autistic children tend to show early problems in their speech. In this new study, however, conducted by using mini-voice recorders and an experimental software program, they discovered that autistic children babble and slur far longer than non-autistic ones.
Considering that one of the dominating characteristics of autism is difficulty communicating and relating to others, that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. What is promising, though, is that if this computer program goes mainstream, we could be looking at the first real screening test for autism.
One in 110 kids in the United States has autism or a related disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Normally, this diagnosis is reached via an extensive interview process and behavioral observations by a medical specialist. But human nature, by nature, introduces the possibility for error or bias, whereas a computer is completely objective.
Even more to the point, children screened for autism at a younger age can get earlier treatment, dramatically impacting their development.
What do you think? Is it ever too soon to screen your kid for autism?
Image via Arturo de Albonoz/Flickr