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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jul 27;107(30):13354-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1003882107. Epub 2010 Jul 19.

Automated vocal analysis of naturalistic recordings from children with autism, language delay, and typical development.

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School of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38105, USA.


For generations the study of vocal development and its role in language has been conducted laboriously, with human transcribers and analysts coding and taking measurements from small recorded samples. Our research illustrates a method to obtain measures of early speech development through automated analysis of massive quantities of day-long audio recordings collected naturalistically in children's homes. A primary goal is to provide insights into the development of infant control over infrastructural characteristics of speech through large-scale statistical analysis of strategically selected acoustic parameters. In pursuit of this goal we have discovered that the first automated approach we implemented is not only able to track children's development on acoustic parameters known to play key roles in speech, but also is able to differentiate vocalizations from typically developing children and children with autism or language delay. The method is totally automated, with no human intervention, allowing efficient sampling and analysis at unprecedented scales. The work shows the potential to fundamentally enhance research in vocal development and to add a fully objective measure to the battery used to detect speech-related disorders in early childhood. Thus, automated analysis should soon be able to contribute to screening and diagnosis procedures for early disorders, and more generally, the findings suggest fundamental methods for the study of language in natural environments.

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