New study on infants’ lip-reading may help diagnose autism earlier

Boston — A new study that found bilingual infants lip-read more than monolingual infants from the same age group may be of great help in diagnosing autism in children even earlier than it is currently possible.

A developmental psychologist from the Northeastern University, David. J. Lewkowicz, first made a ground-breaking research in 2012 that found babies learn to talk not solely by listening, but also by reading the lips of the people talking around them. Lewkowicz observed that infants also pay close attention to visual speech during the stages where young children typically start to develop their speech skills.

This previous research of Lewkowicz inspired him to conduct another study, this time on children who are learning two languages— and compared them with those on the same age group who were only learning one. With the help of his co-authors Ferran Pons and Laura Bosch from the University of Barcelona and Institute of Brain, Cognition, and Behavior in Spain, Lewkowicz found that children who were learning two languages paid more attention on visual speech— which is lip-reading in essence— and for a longer time, compared to monolingual children who mainly relied on listening and less on lip-reading. Lewkowicz told:

“These results pro­vide new insights into the under­lying mech­a­nisms of people’s ability to acquire more than one lan­guage at the same time early in life.”

This finding, according to Lewkowicz, is important in the diagnosis and treatment of children with communicative and developmental disorders such as autism. He pointed out that children with autism, who are typically diagnosed between the ages 18-24 months, are inclined to avoid eye contact and tend not to look at the faces of the people interacting with them. This, said Lewkowicz, significantly diminishes their opportunities to learn a language and develop their speech, as this makes them heavily reliant on listening alone in developing their speech skills.

Although the research was focused more on uncovering the mechanism behind the ability of young children to absorb multiple languages easily, the study does have a significant impact on the diagnosis and possible treatment of children on the autism spectrum.

Lewkowicz’s study will be published in the forthcoming Psychological Science journal.

Contributed by Althea Estrella Violeta

Source: on the News @ Northeastern website: Study: Bilingual infants lip-​​read more than monolingual infants