Could autism experts really diagnose a child with autism based on a single day’s worth of speech recordings? A company marketing such a device says they can absolutely screen for autism and speech issues through the mail.
But doctors and some parents with autistic kids are skeptical. In fact, some are worried that this will only fuel parental anxiety, particularly when it comes to autism.
The company, LENA, claims the $200 device is meant to help early detection of autism. Right now, autism disorders are caught, on average, when kids are nearly 6 years old. Children who have been diagnosed earlier, they say, receive earlier intervention, giving them an advantage over kids who had been diagnosed when they were older.
Here’s how the LENA system works, according to the website:
After providing the requested order and payment information through our online shop, you will receive a kit with a LENA Digital Language Processor (DLP—a small, unobtrusive recording device), LENA Clothing, and some questionnaires. On the recording day (we recommend a weekend day), you dress your child in the LENA Clothing, turn on and insert the DLP in the clothing pocket and record 12 to 16 hours of your child’s daily vocalizations. The next day you send the DLP and other materials back to us in a prepaid FedEx envelope. We process the data and send you the results and reports within two weeks of receiving your packet.
The report consists of scores, etc., and give parents a probability of the likelihood of autism. Probability of the likelihood? Sounds like a whole lot of hedging.
A big selling point of the device, some claim, is that pediatricians spend only an average of 7 minutes with the child at doctor’s visits — not enough time to pick up on possible signs. Okay, but then that’s a problem with the kind of care kids are getting from pediatricians, who might need to start screening at the 2- and 3-year-old well-child check ups. The LENA system is meant for kids as young as 24 months up to 48 months old.
One skeptical mother of an autistic child said the device wouldn’t have picked up anything on her daughter, since she didn’t talk that much. Another said she realized something was wrong when her kid was checked out — there weren’t signs in her language.
I’d love to know LENA’s batting average so far. Does the probability score put a lot of parents into panic mode?
What do you think? Is this high-tech way to read tea leaves? A battery operated crystal ball? Have you had an autism scare? How was your child diagnosed with autism?