Autism kids Take Longer To Process Sounds

Man Listening to Sound Waves

The Research

Researchers have found that kids with autism may have trouble communicating because their brains take longer to process sounds.   Researchers were led by Timothy Roberts from the Department of Radiology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and focused on 30 autistic kids between the ages of 6 and 15.

The study was done using technology known as MEG or magnetoencephalography to see how they reacted to certain sounds.   Abnormalities in auditory and language processing may be evaluated in children with autism spectrum disorder by using MEG according to a study presented on 01-Dec-08 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

 MEG can record the tiny magnetic fields associated with electrical brain activity. The recorded brain waves change with every sensation, thought and activity. Typically used for epilepsy evaluation, MEG can also be used to identify timing abnormalities in the brains of patients with autism.

For a MEG exam, a helmet that houses magnetic detectors and looks similar to an old-fashioned hair dryer is lowered over the patient’s head while the patient remains in a seated position. The helmet analyzes electrical currents from the brain.

For the study, 64 patients, age six to 15, with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder were evaluated with MEG. Audio stimulation was introduced to the children in the form of beeps, tones in pairs, vowels or sentences. Sounds were presented at different frequencies and tone pairs in rapid succession, including unusual streams of incongruous tones and vowels. The results were analyzed and compared with the results from a control group of age-matched non-autistic children.

The Findings

What they found was that kids with autism reacted anywhere from 20% to 50% slower to the sounds than those without autism. 

The findings showed that in the children with autism there was a fraction of a second delay in the brain’s response while processing the rapid succession sounds and the unusual streams, giving researchers an insight into the dysfunction of the auditory processing system in autistic children.

“This delay in processing certain types and streams of sound may underpin the subsequent language processing and communication impairment seen in autistic children,” Dr. Roberts said.

Relevance of the Findings

Dr. Roberts predicts that the signatures of autism found in brain activity will become biomarkers to improve classification of the disorder and aid in treatment and therapy planning.

“We hope that in the future these signatures will also be revealed in the infant brain to help diagnose autism and allow earlier intervention,” he said.


I am surprised that my son is able to catch a tune and tap to the music at precise beat.  Not an obvious symptom that he process sounds slower than other kids.  I am sure some great autistic musician are also examples of such exceptional cases.


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