Family Matters

Can a Baby’s Cry Be a Clue to Autism?

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Researchers have analyzed brain scans and eye movements as harbingers of autism. Now they’re listening to babies’ cries. Scientists at Brown University think it’s possible that infants’ early cries might provide a clue to whether they’re at risk of developing autism, based on a small study they conducted on about 40 babies. They compared the cries of one group, considered at risk of autism because they had older siblings with the disorder, to a second low-risk group. When the babies were six months old, they were videotaped in order to collect a vocal sampling. At some point during the 45-minute filming, the infants cried.

Researchers isolated the cries and conducted computerized acoustic analysis on the recordings to isolate different frequencies. They also separated out the cries based on whether they were related to pain — if a baby fell in the video, for example, then started wailing — and compared the two groups’ pain-related vocalizations.

MORE: Older Fathers Linked to Kids’ Autism and Schizophrenia Risk

The 21 at-risk babies had higher-pitched cries that were “low in voicing,” which translates into a rougher, less clear sound that could indicate their vocal cords are tenser than infants in the low-risk group. What’s more, the three babies with the highest-pitched cries went on to receive an autism diagnosis, according to the study published in Autism Research.

The findings, however, shouldn’t lead parents to start assessing their babies’ cries, says lead author Stephen Sheinkopf, a psychologist at the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk. “We definitely don’t want parents to be anxiously listening to their babies cry,” says Sheinkopf, who points out that the differences in cries were detected by sophisticated technology and not people. “It’s unclear if the human ear is sensitive enough to detect this.”

MORE: Brain Imaging Could Detect Autism in Infants As Young as Six Months

What is clear is that the findings are intriguing enough to warrant follow-up, particularly since it’s so difficult to find indicators of autism in very young children. In most cases, diagnoses aren’t made before age 2 or so since the classic symptoms of autism — social deficits, difficulty interacting and communicating with others — can be hard to spot before then.

Linking cries with risk of autism is not an association drawn from left field, however; cries, in general, have been correlated with brain development. Babies who are born premature or have suffered birth trauma tend to have higher-pitched cries, while those with Down syndrome often make weaker, lower-pitched sounds. Older children with autism often make atypical sounds — more sing-songy, for example— and researchers wondered whether it might be possible to observe unusual sounds in infants at risk of autism. “Cries are clues to what’s going on neurologically, but they hadn’t been looked at in relation to autism,” says Sheinkopf.

MORE: Siblings of Autistic Kids Show Similar Brain Activity

Finding clues in infancy could have a significant impact on children who are affected by autism. “Autism seems to be a disorder that starts subtle and magnifies with age,” says Sheinkopf. Studies consistently show that early intervention with behavioral therapies can help to lessen or even reverse some of the developmental symptoms. And diagnosing the disorder as early as possible could enable these strategies to begin even sooner.

15 comments
shawnamurraymd
shawnamurraymd

One possible etiology for poor understanding of other's minds is that individuals with autism can't read their own emotions or internal experiences. This condition, alexithymia, may explain the outbursts and tantrums, especially in younger children. This means that empathy is necessarily impaired and may explain the ability of people with autism to relentlessly target other people for assassination.

Multiple shooters in recent extraordinary rampages or targeted killings had diagnoses of ASD, Asperger's disorder or autism.:

-The Port Arthur shooter in who is still alive in jail has been diagnosed with autism and mental retardation.

-The Virginia Tech shooter was clearly autistic with elective mutism as a child, humorlessness and poor relationships.

-The Colorado movie theater shooter also had signs and symptoms of classic Asperger's disorder.

-The Norway shooter has received one diagnosis of Asperger's and narcissistic personality disorder: http://zeenews.india.com/news/world/norway-mass-killer-suffers-from-aspergers_780786.html. He was relentless in his targeting of young people. Other criminologists in Norway agree & list Asperger's disorder in criminal cases: http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dagbladet.no%2F2012%2F01%2F25%2Fnyheter%2Finnenriks%2Fterror%2F19925148%2F

-The Sandy Hook shooter had obviously been seriously impaired from Asperger's disorder since he was young and was not going to be able to negotiate the demands of the adult world.

-John Odgren, afflicted with Asperger's disorder, killed a classmate at school after targeting him for days. http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/x359581057/John-Odgren-sentenced-to-life-in-prison-no-parole

-Multiple people have been relentlessly targeted by a dangerous psychiatrist with Asperger's disorder and malignant narcissism, Paul S. Appelbaum. Victims include disabled psychiatric patients, one of whom was killed in an unethical research study, and other patients, many of whom were sexually assaulted by their doctors. Multiple weapons on hospital grounds, even after a completed shooting, were intentionally ignored. Seven people were nearly killed in a fire; concerns for their safety were ridiculed.  The incompetent, unethical and dangerous Appelbaum is presenting himself as an "expert" on competency, ethics and dangerousness, including weapons in schools and shootings by people with Aspergers' disorder.

If autism advocates want what is best for those afflicted with the disease, they need to face reality and stop insisting on political correctness or "advocacy kindness". Many people have been killed or injured due to a failure to appreciate the dangerousness of autism in men.

In a modern civil society, the task should be to keep people with autism out of positions of authority and away from video games and guns. Let's concentrate on that, rather than denying psychopathology and potential dangerousness.

JimStiles
JimStiles

This is just silly.  This study means nothing when no conclusion can be met....My boy was silent from birth, hardly cried at all..."he was different" and yes, he has autism...Put that in your million dollar pipe and smoke it....were the cries different, give me a $%## break...

RamonaJackson
RamonaJackson

My son was autistic from birth, long before he was given anyvaccine.  I observed in the Newborn Nursery that he was hyperactive inthe bassinet, unlike all the other newborns and mentioned it to thenurses.  His feeding was also different, he cried for the nipple when itwas already in his mouth.  He was different from the others.

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The vaccine people desperately hold onto a debunkedtheory.  Wakefield lost his medical license over that study, which was funded by anti-vaccine lawyers.  Vaccines had nothing to do with my son's autism.  If other parents were trained observers as I am, they could see the differences in their infants, too.

tibby
tibby

The day after my daughter was born, he cry was a very high pitched cry not the same at all as new borns, i knew straight away something was wrong, i alaways thought there was a relation between them, she was diagnosed at three with autism.

I think this can be diagnosed at birth with the crys because they are nowhere near the same cry at all as a normal baby.

anothersarah
anothersarah

I am a neonatal nurse practitioner, and we have always known that a high-pitched cry is an indication of neurological damage.  I believe autism is a result of hypoxia or other brain damage either prenantally, during the birth process or during early infancy, usually with a genetic predisposition.  My youngest son had the highest, shrillest cry ever and he was born blue, floppy and had to be resuscitated.  He had a lot of developmental issues and required speech, physical and occupational therapy 4x/week for years.  He has made tremendous progress.  Our nephew has severe autism, and while I can't remember him having the same cry, he made eye contact with anyone and had terrible tantrums.

nhokkanen
nhokkanen

Brain swelling from post-vaccinal encephalopathy -- look it up in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. That screaming is your infant's way of telling you his inflamed brain is putting pressure on his skull and becoming damaged. That screaming is your infant's way of telling doctors that he needs an MRI and steroids... and something to reduce his pain that doesn't deplete his glutathione levels.

AnneDachel1
AnneDachel1

Just how much “science” can we stand when it comes autism? Within days of a study linking autism to air pollution and another pointing to mothers having a fever during pregnancy, we see findings on how babies cry and autism. Add that to the research linking autism to bad genes, older dads, older moms, obese moms, and it’s clear---autism will remain a mystery for many years to come.Once again we have proof that experts are willing to look at any possible cause or association for autism except the ever-expanding vaccine schedule. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/0-6yrs-schedule-pr.pdfAnne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism http://www.ageofautism.com/

AnneDachel1
AnneDachel1

“The 21 at-risk babies had higher-pitched cries that were “low in voicing,” which translates into a rougher, less clear sound that could indicate their vocal cords are tenser than infants in the low-risk group. What’s more, the three babies with the highest-pitched cries went on to receive an autism diagnosis, according to the study published in Autism Research.”The high pitched scream component has been cited by thousands of parents as a recognized vaccine reaction.See NVIC: http://www.nvic.org/nvic-archives/newsletter/autismandvaccines.aspx“Parents of now grown vaccine injured children, who warned pediatricians and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officials in the 1980’s that their once healthy, bright children regressed mentally, emotionally and physically after reacting to DPT vaccine with fever, high pitched screaming (encephalitic cry), collapse/shock, and seizures, are grieving with a new generation of parents whose healthy, bright children suddenly regress after DPT/DTaP, MMR, hepatitis B, polio, Hib and chicken pox vaccinations. The refusal two decades ago by vaccine manufacturers, government health agencies and medical organizations to seriously investigate reports of vaccine-associated brain injury and immune system dysfunction, including autistic behaviors, is reaping tragic consequences today.”Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism http://www.ageofautism.com/

AnneDachel1
AnneDachel1

What no one wants to study are the thousands of children who were born healthy and were developing normally until they received certain routine vaccine from the ever-expanding vaccine schedule. Their parents report they suddenly got sick, lost learned skills, and regressed into autism. Doctors can't explain this. The only thing they're sure of is that their vaccines aren't to blame, and they have lots of studies--all tied to the industry--that show no link.This link shows the dramatic increase in the number of vaccines our children receive between 1983 and 2012. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-arqv6t8VacY/T7QvOcTrpmI/AAAAAAAAD-U/EBqU4n3R0SE/s1600/VaxCDC.pngWhere is even one study on the cumulative effect of the increasing number of vaccines in the childhood schedule? THERE ISN'T ONE.Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism http://www.ageofautism.com/

StephanieThayer
StephanieThayer

As soon as I saw the article, it quickly caught my attention. Our son, Ian was diagnosed at age 5 with Asperger's syndrome. As as infant he cried incessantly, even has he approached his toddler years he still cried through the night. I've always wondered if these unexplained bouts of crying related in any way to his autism. We took him to the doctor frequently fearing that he was colicky, but they never could make a determination as to why he cried so much and so loud. This is a very interesting study. 

JimStiles
JimStiles

@tibby So when a baby doesn't cry at all for the most part, and ends up with autism, doesn't that make your observation kind of pointless, just like the study?  When I mean didn't cry, I mean, right from womb to Mom's chest without wailing at all.  Just a very peaceful "where am I?" look...

neadybear
neadybear

@anothersarah my son was a great baby loved to sleep, never had a problem feeding or sleeping and he rarely cried and said his first words at a early age and i have a very easy birth with no complications what so ever , he stopped taking and sleeping a few months after the mmr vaccine. I feel my eldest son fits the description above and i had a very difficult birth with him and he cried non stop and never stayed still and he does not have autism  I think it is a guessing game and no 2 children with autism are alike each is very very different there will never be a conclusive cause or instant identification of autism because as every medical professional i have met have said that if you have met 1 person with autism , you have only met one, as there are no 2 alike. 

JimStiles
JimStiles

@anothersarah As a "neonatal nurse practitioner" that believes a "high-pitched cry is an indication of neurological damage", I wouldn't trust your observation at face value.  Clearly you just wanted to boast your credentials when in the end, this observation is just wrong, and that makes the "educated" and the educated guess look very stupid when autistic children can be very quiet and calm.  If the conclusion isn't definitive, there's no point in mentioning it.