An innovative team of researchers from Brown University and the Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island has invented a computer-based tool to analyze the cries of babies. This team from the United States hopes their creation will provide a new way to identify heath problems in infants, such as neurological problems, developmental disorders, and even autism.
The baby cry analyzer operates in two phases. In the first phase, the analyzer separates recorded cries into 12.5-millisecond frames. Next, each frame is analyzed for several parameters such as frequency characteristics, acoustic volume, and voicing. In the second phase, the data from the first phase is used to give a broader view of the cry and condenses the number of parameters to those that will be the most useful when it comes to the analysis. The frames are then put back together into either a single cry or silence (the pause between cries). Lastly, the system evaluates the cries for 80 different parameters. These parameters have the possibility to hold clues about the health of a baby.
Dr. Sheinkopf, who specializes in developmental disorders, plans to use this new technology to look for cry features that might relate to autism. “We’ve known for a long time that older individuals with autism produce sounds or vocalizations that are unusual or atypical,” Dr. Sheinkopf states. “So vocalizations in babies have been discussed as being useful in developing early identification tools for autism. That’s been a major challenge. How do you find signs of autism in infancy?”
“The idea is that cry can be a window into the brain,” states Barry Lester, PhD and director of Brown’s Center for the Study of Children at Risk.