The ability to understand speech despite background noise is important for linguistic acquisition, educational attainment, and positive interpersonal relationships. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often exhibit deficits in performance on auditory-based tasks, especially in the presence of background noise, as compared to neurotypical peers. Thus, speech perception-in-noise challenges and related listening difficulties could have a detrimental impact on language development, communication within family units, social skills, academic achievements, and eventual vocational success. Evidence has demonstrated that wireless hearing technologies, such as remote microphone (RM) systems, facilitate speech perception in background noise, but limited research has examined potential benefits of this technology for children with ASD.
The proposed study will explore real-world impacts of RM system use by preschool-age children with ASD in their homes. This examination will include collecting data from the children and their caregivers on their listening behaviors and language exchanges while using this technology. Twenty families of children with ASD will be recruited for this project. During two consecutive weekends, the vocalizations of caregiver-child dyads will be audio recorded in their homes. For one weekend, the child will be using an RM system and for the other s/he will not be using the RM system. The following measurements will be collected during both weekends using data from the audio recorders: (1) the total amount of child talk; (2) the total amount of caregiver talk; (3) the number of dyadic conversational turns between children and caregivers; and (4) the number of caregiver-produced repetitions and alerting phrases during verbal interactions. The caregivers’ perceptions of RM system use will be gathered via a questionnaire at the end of the study. Findings from this study could inform recommendations for management of children with ASD, and also educate professionals about realistic benefits and practical limitations of RM system use for families.