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Keywords:

  • lateralization;
  • medial olivocochlear system;
  • neurodevelopmental disorders;
  • otoacoustic emission

Abstract

Difficulty in filtering relevant auditory information in background noise is one of the features of autism. Auditory filtering processes can be investigated at the peripheral level as they are hypothesized to involve active cochlear mechanisms which are regulated by the efferent activity of the medial olivocochlear (MOC) system. The aim of the present work was therefore to assess these peripheral auditory processes in 22 children and adolescents with autism compared with age- and gender-matched normal controls. Active cochlear mechanisms were evaluated with transiently evoked otoacoustic emissions (TEOAEs) and MOC system efficiency was assessed via TEOAEs which are decreased when stimulating the contralateral ear with noise. The MOC system evaluation was performed on 18 of the 22 children. In both studies, results were analysed according to age (from 4 to 10 years and from 11 to 20 years). The main result concerns the asymmetry of the efferent system which differs in individuals with autism. Several neural processes might be hypothesized as involved in the results obtained as the MOC system which originates in the brainstem received regulating controls from upper brain structures including auditory cortex. Lateralization abnormalities at the auditory periphery may reflect indirectly a problem at a higher level of auditory processing. A second important result shows a decrease in TEOAE amplitude with age, in patients, that may correspond to a decrease in hearing sensitivity.