The autism spectrum disorders [ASDs] encompass a set of neurodevelopmental conditions defined by abnormalities in behavior and social communicative skills. It is presently estimated that there are more than 1.5 million autistic individuals in the US alone. Almost 50% of children with autism are completely non-verbal, and less than 10% achieve independent living as adults. Whereas sensory processing problems are not considered to be core diagnostic symptoms of autism, both clinical observations and parental questionnaires confirm the presence of sensory anomalies in 42-88% of school age children with autism. Sound hypersensitivities seem to be especially problematic for about 25% of children with autism. This is an important therapeutic target because there is mounting evidence in autism that early-stage sensory processing abnormalities are neurobiological precursors of more complicated cognitive problems, especially in the language domain. Music-based therapies [e.g., the Tomatis method, the Listening Program, and Berard Auditory Integration Training] are often tried by parents hoping to improve auditory processing in their children. These programs can be moderately expensive [costs range from $500-$3000+], and may require multiple daily visits to a practitioners office. Somewhat disturbingly, although there are anecdotal reports on efficacy for these interventions, there is a lack of supportive peer-reviewed literature, with proposed modes of action being unsubstantiated. Based on our own behavioral and brain imaging studies of sound sensitivities in autism, we have developed a novel and innovative music-based therapy that we believe will lead to improved auditory processing abilities. This new therapy, Auditory Processing Training [APT], uses specially modulated music in an effort to re-organize atypical functional interactions in auditory cortex into a normal pattern. The method takes advantage of animal and human data showing that selective filtering of an incoming auditory stream of music or other sounds can lead to alterations in cortical organization and sound perceptions. Excitingly, the method can be implemented at home for a relatively low cost (<$400). In the proposed project, we will conduct a Phase I clinical trial evaluating the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of APT. Both subjective parent questionnaires and objective behavioral, audiological, and functional brain imaging tests [magnetoencephalography and electroencephalography] will be used to explore the impact of APT on auditory processing and autistic features.

Public Health Relevance

Auditory processing problems are especially problematic for the more than 1.5 million U.S. individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This project will evaluate the safety, tolerability and efficacy of Auditory Processing Training [APT], a new therapy that we have developed based on our prior behavioral and brain imaging studies of autism. The method can be implemented at home for a relatively low cost (<$400).

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Grants - Phase I (R41)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-ETTN-E (12))
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Hughes, Gordon B
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La Jolla
United States
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