Combining voice and language features improves automated autism detection

Heather MacFarlane, Alexandra C. Salem, Liu Chen, Meysam Asgari, Eric Fombonne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Variability in expressive and receptive language, difficulty with pragmatic language, and prosodic difficulties are all features of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Quantifying language and voice characteristics is an important step for measuring outcomes for autistic people, yet clinical measurement is cumbersome and costly. Using natural language processing (NLP) methods and a harmonic model of speech, we analyzed language transcripts and audio recordings to automatically classify individuals as ASD or non-ASD. One-hundred fifty-eight participants (88 ASD, 70 non-ASD) ages 7 to 17 were evaluated with the autism diagnostic observation schedule (ADOS-2), module 3. The ADOS-2 was transcribed following modified SALT guidelines. Seven automated language measures (ALMs) and 10 automated voice measures (AVMs) for each participant were generated from the transcripts and audio of one ADOS-2 task. The measures were analyzed using support vector machine (SVM; a binary classifier) and receiver operating characteristic (ROC). The AVM model resulted in an ROC area under the curve (AUC) of 0.7800, the ALM model an AUC of 0.8748, and the combined model a significantly improved AUC of 0.9205. The ALM model better detected ASD participants who were younger and had lower language skills and shorter activity time. ASD participants detected by the AVM model had better language profiles than those detected by the language model. In combination, automated measurement of language and voice characteristics successfully differentiated children with and without autism. This methodology could help design robust outcome measures for future research. Lay Summary: People with autism often struggle with communication differences which traditional clinical measures and language tests cannot fully capture. Using language transcripts and audio recordings from 158 children ages 7 to 17, we showed that automated, objective language and voice measurements successfully predict the child's diagnosis. This methodology could help design improved outcome measures for research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAutism Research
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • autism
  • automated measures
  • communication
  • disfluency
  • natural language processing
  • pragmatic language
  • prosody
  • voice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)

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