For release: February 7, 2011
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901-678-2843
Autism Speaks, the largest North American autism advocacy and science organization,
has named as one of the top 10 autism research achievements in 2010 the discovery
that children with autism have a unique vocal signature.
The study of pre-verbal children’s vocalizations was led by Dr. D. Kimbrough Oller,
professor and chair of excellence in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology at the
University of Memphis. It was published in the July 27, 2010, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy
Dr. D. Kimbrough Oller
Using a new technology for recording and automated assessment, called LENA (Language
ENvironment Analysis), the researchers analyzed multiple characteristics of vocalizations
from thousands of hours of recordings of children in their natural environments.
The system correctly identified children with autism spectrum disorder diagnoses with
86 percent accuracy. The system also differentiated typically developing children and children with autism
from children with language delay, based on the automated vocal analysis.
The researchers analyzed 1,486 all-day recordings from 232 children (more than 3.1
million automatically identified child utterances) through an algorithm based on 12
acoustic parameters important in vocal development, as indicated in Oller’s research
over a 35-year period. The most important of these parameters proved to be the ones
targeting syllabification, the ability of children to produce well-formed syllables
with rapid movements of the jaw and tongue during vocalization. Infants show voluntary
control of syllabification and voice in the first months of life and refine this skill
as they acquire language.
Autism Speaks cited the potential for the portable, easy-to-use technology as an objective
early-screening and diagnosis tool for physicians to use in examining children. The
organization also suggested that LENA could assist speech-language professionals in
predicting very young children’s later language development to guide them in the type
and timing of therapeutic interventions.
Oller said the research shows that a new era of investigation is now underway, wherein
“massive recording samples can be assessed by totally objective means to estimate
children’s vocal development level and also to estimate their risk for important disorders.”
More information about the research is available from Dr. Kimbrough Oller via email
at email@example.com or by phone 901-678-5800.