Early intervention in autism can make a tremendous impact on the progress and development of a child. Now, new research is on the forefront of making it possible to screen for autism even earlier in children using a technology known as LENA (Language Environment Analysis). LENA, a digital language processor and language analysis software, is being used to analyze the twelve parameters of verbal development in infants just as they are beginning to talk. This can result in the detection of autism as well as language delays.
The interest in LENA and vocal analysis was sparked when researchers found that pre-verbal vocalizations of infants with autism are distinctly different from normally developing children. The LENA processor itself is a small device than can fit discreetly in specially designed clothing. It can be taken anywhere and thus can stay with the child throughout the day and record every sound that is made by the child.
Kimbrough Oller, a professor and chair of excellence in audiology and speech language pathology at the University of Memphis led the study with a team of academic professionals. The vocal study was done on 232 children and 1,486 all-day recordings were reviewed. The results showed a definite difference in children with autism and children without the disorder in their syllabification. Syllabification can be heard in the first months of life, and is when children are able to produce well-formed syllables with quick movements of the jaw and tongue during vocalization (National Academy of Sciences). Because the study is based on syllabification and not on words, LENA technology could potentially be used to screen speakers of all languages. This could be very impacting for infants with autism across the globe.