Researchers Develop Baby Cry Analyzer to Indentify Neurological and Developmental Disorders in Children

Researchers at Brown University and Women and Women & Infants Hospital have developed a machine that studies babies' cries.

This machine can analyze babies' cries and make it easy for physicians to identify neurological problems or developmental disorders in children, the researchers claim.

"Slight variations in cries, mostly imperceptible to the human ear, can be a 'window into the brain' that could allow for early intervention," Brown University said.

According to Stephen Sheinkopf, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, babies' cries show faint evidence of their condition. He explained that any kind of trauma or brain injury through complications during pregnancy, birth or premature birth can have constant medical effects. "Cry analysis can be a noninvasive way to get a measurement of these disruptions in the neuro-biological and neuro-behavioral systems in very young babies," he said.

Sheinkopf, who was a part of the team that developed the tool, said he will use the machine to determine autism in babies. "We've known for a long time that older individuals with autism produce sounds or vocalizations that are unusual or atypical. 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?" he asked.

The researchers said that the cry analyzing machine will work in two segments. Firstly, it will simplify the recorded cries into 12.5 millisecond frames and secondly, it will analyze each frame with minimum 80 parameters. "It's a comprehensive tool for getting as much important stuff out of a baby cry that we can," said Harvey Silverman, professor of engineering and director of Brown's Laboratory for Engineering Man/Machine Systems.

For the project, Silverman and his graduate students Brian Reggiannini and Xiaoxue Li worked with Sheinkopf and Barry Lester, director of Brown's Center for the Study of Children at Risk.

According to Lester, who studied baby cries for several years, the research traces its roots to the 1960s with a disorder called Cri du chat (cry of the cat) syndrome.

Cri du chat is an offshoot of a genetic anomaly similar to Downs syndrome, and babies who suffer from it have a distinct, high-pitched cry. "The idea is that cry can be a window into the brain," Lester said adding, "Cry is an early warning sign that can be used in the context of looking at the whole baby."

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