FRIDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- The sounds infants make when
they cry could offer insight into the likelihood that they'll later
be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, a tiny and preliminary
However, it's too early to know if there actually is a
connection between cries and autism or why one would exist in the
first place. Even if there is a link, the difference between the
crying of babies who are developing normally and those with autism
may be too subtle for people to notice without audio analysis by a
There's also the question of what could be done, if anything, to
help babies at high risk of autism. Now, physicians are unable to
diagnose autism disorders until about the age of 18 months.
Still, the analysis of the cries of babies "might allow us to
target the right babies to monitor or intervene with," said study
lead author Stephen Sheinkopf, an assistant professor of psychiatry
and human behavior at Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I.
It's estimated that about one in 88 children has an autism
spectrum disorder, an umbrella term for a group of developmental
brain disorders that hinder a person's ability to communicate and
interact with others.
In previous studies, researchers looked at the cries of
1-year-old babies and found that the sounds made by infants who
were later diagnosed with autism were more likely to be a bit
different than typically developing babies.
The new study examined recordings of the crying of two groups:
21 babies aged 6 months who were at higher risk of autism spectrum
disorders because they have siblings diagnosed with them, and 18
other babies considered to be at low risk. Computers analyzed the
acoustics of the recordings.
The babies at high risk cried at a higher pitch, and there was
another subtle difference that had to do with a kind of background
noise in the cry, Sheinkopf said. But people might not be able to
pick up the differences without the computer's help, he said. "We
don't want parents to go home and listen anxiously to their babies
cry. We think it's more subtle than that," he noted.
The study results are complicated: Only three of the at-risk
babies were later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Their
cries were the highest-pitched and the most noisy, Sheinkopf
What's going on, if anything? Sheinkopf said it may have
something to do with how the central nervous system affects the
acoustics of crying. "We know that older children with autism often
produce sound in eccentric or unusual ways."
More research is needed to fully understand whether there's a
connection between the autism and the acoustics of crying, he
What if it's actually possible to predict whether a young baby
will develop autism by examining how he or she cries? New research
suggests that it's possible to help them learn how to better
communicate with others, said Geraldine Dawson, chief science
officer at the advocacy group Autism Speaks.
For her part, Helen Tager-Flusberg, a professor of psychology
who studies autism at Boston University, said the latest findings
are interesting but need to be confirmed in a much larger group of
Even if there is a link, "we don't know yet where the cut off
would be that actually predicts later diagnosis of autism," she
The study was published in a recent issue of the journal
While the study found an association between infants at risk for
autism and subtle differences in their crying, it did not prove a
For more about
autism, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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