Measuring Sensory Processing Speed May Improve Autism Diagnosis

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Measuring how quickly the brain responds to sights and sounds can help classify people on the autism spectrum and may help in earlier diagnosis, according to a new study by researchers at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

An estimated one in 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but the signs and symptoms vary significantly from person to person. This variation makes it difficult to classify patients into subgroups. 

ASD diagnosis is based on a patient’s behavioral characteristics and symptoms, but assessments can be highly subjective. In this study, researchers sought a more objective way to diagnose and classify ASD, according to an article posted on Medical Design Technology.

Lead researcher Sophie Molholm, PhD, and colleagues conducted a previous study that found that children with ASD process sensory information such as sound, touch, and vision more slowly than typically-developing children do.

To expand on their previous findings, the researchers conducted a new study to see whether sensory processing varies along the autism spectrum. 

Forty-three ASD children aged 6 to 17 years were presented with sensory stimulation and told to press a button as soon as they sensed the stimuli. Participants were either presented with an auditory tone, a visual image (red circle), or a tone combined with an image. During the study, continuous electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings via 70 scalp electrodes determined how fast the participants’ brains were processing the stimuli.

The researchers found a strong correlation between auditory processing and symptom severity. Longer processing time of auditory signals was linked to greater autistic symptom severity.

The study also found a similar, though weaker, correlation between the speed of processing the combined audio-visual signals and ASD severity. They found no correlation between speed of visual processing and ASD severity.

These EEG recordings provide an objective way to determine a patient’s place on the autism spectrum. Dr. Molhom also hopes that EEG recordings can help evaluate the effective of ASD therapies as well as aid in earlier ASD diagnosis.


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EEG recordings can be used to classify patients on the autism spectrum.
A new study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University suggests that measuring how fast the brain responds to sights and sounds could help in objectively classifying people on the autism spectrum and may help diagnose the condition earlier.
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