Doctors and parents have long struggled to understand the strange sensory tricks autism can play on a child's mind. Ordinary noises -- screeching car alarms, knocking radiator pipes, even the whirr of a fan -- can be intolerable to children with the neurodevelopmental disorder.
Now, a new study involving 64 children offers fresh clues about why sounds may unnerve kids with autism.
The study, published Jan. 14 in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that children with autism experience delays when their brains attempt to process information received by their eyes and their ears at the same time.
As a result, they have trouble matching sounds, especially speech, to their sources.
"They're perceiving the world in a really interesting and fragmented way, where the visual signal and auditory signal are sort of mismatched in time relative to one another," said study author Mark Wallace, director of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute in Nashville, Tenn.
Wallace said it would be like watching a badly dubbed foreign film.
"And if you think about it, that can have all kinds of consequences for the language abilities of these children and even their social interactions," he said.