UMaine study examines potential link between newborn hearing loss and autism

Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 3:02 PM EDT
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A new study released by the University of Maine could help unlock the mysteries of autism.

It found a potential link between the disorder and early hearing loss.

Joy Hollowell talked to the co-authors of the study.

Babies born in Maine hospitals undergo newborn hearing tests, typically within hours after birth.

"There's clinical studies indicating that children with autism spectrum disorders may have atypical ABR, that's the auditory brain to stem response patterns," says Shihfen Tu, Professor of Education and Applied Quantitative Methods, University of Maine. "And so we thought it would be interesting to look at children to see if there's any connection."

Craig Mason is also a professor of education and applied quantitative methods at the University of Maine. He is also Tu's husband. The couple along with other authors of the study, compared results of newborn hearing screenings between 2003 and 2005 along with data from the Maine Department of Education for the 2010-11 and 2013-14 school years.

"We were interested to see if we could see an association all the way back to birth," says Mason.

"And we found out that actually newborns that did not pass their initial hearing screening but then later on, usually in a short period of time, they were diagnosed with normal hearingl," says Tu, the lead author of the study. "But then 5-10 years later, what the data shows is that they were at a higher rate being identified with autIsm spectrum disorder."

For children in Maine between the ages of five and seven, the odds of being diagnosed with ASD were more than 8 times that of the general population. For kids 8 to 10, the odds were six times higher.

"For this specific study, we limited it to only those who actually had typical or what we used to call normal hearing," explains Mason. "So we wanted to separate out that question of- well, is this just sort of a correlation of having hearing loss."

The authors want to make it clear- this study is not for diagnosing ASD. However-

"It raises the question of whether there may be other developmental challenges that children face that may also be able to benefit from early identification," says Mason. "Just basically keep an eye on those children. So even though they were diagnosed with normal hearing, still watch for developmental milestone," adds Tu.

The plan now is to replicate the study in other states for further analysis.

"We just think it's important that we find ways to help identify these conditions as early as possible so that proper intervention services can be provided to these children," says Tu. "To help improve their lives. That is something we feel very passionate about."


The study was published in the Journal of Early Hearing Detection and intervention.

You can read the full study here