One of the most common symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is trouble integrating audio and visual cues, which often impairs children from developing traditional social skills. This can be distressing to parents and their children alike, but recent studies show that these symptoms may go away in adolescents with high-functioning ASD.

The scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University who conducted the study say that the ability to use seen and heard speech signals are crucial for communicating effectively and children with ASD will have trouble in educational and social settings. However, there are signs that children with high-functioning ASD may be able to outgrow these social barriers and specific therapy may help them grow out of it faster.

Lead author of the study, Dr. John Foxe, a professor of pediatrics and in the Dominick P. Purpura as well as director of research of the Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Einstein Department of Neuroscience says that "This is an extremely hopeful finding. It suggests that the neurophysiological circuits for speech in these children aren't fundamentally broken and that we might be able to do something to help them recover sooner."

The study included 222 children between the ages of 5 to 17 with high-functioning ASD. At the beginning of the study, the children were tested to see how well they understood speaking with increasing levels of background noise. Other tests included playing a video with a person articulating words, but without audio, and a third test included both audio and video recordings.

These tests mimicked common social scenarios in which people usually rely on auditory and facial cues to understand what people are saying. Most of the children performed nearly as well as traditionally developing children in the first test, but did worse in the second test. In the third test, the younger children performed worse than typically developing children, but the older participants did nearly as well as typically developing children without ASD. 

"In adolescence, something amazing happens and the kids with ASD begin to perform like the typically developing kids," said Dr. Foxe. "At this point, we can't explain why. It may be a function of a physiological change in their brain or of interventions they've received or both. That is something we need to explore."

The research and tests revealed the need to form specific therapies revolving around audio and visual cues for children with high-functioning ASD. Hopefully, the resulting therapies will help these children integrate into typical social and educational settings more quickly and with greater ease.

Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University (2013, August 28). Autistic children can outgrow difficulty understanding visual cues and sounds. ScienceDaily.