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July 15, 2013 by MARCO TORRES
Psychiatrist Develops Computer-Based Tool For Cry Analysis To Label And Medicate Developmental Disorders In Babies

A cry analyzer designed to detect subtle acoustic features of a cry, many of them imperceptible to the human ear, will soon be used by researchers and clinicians as a type of precognition in identifying children with neurological problems or developmental disorders. The research aims to diagnose, treat and medicate infants before they are able to speak.

Chalk it up to another fail by the medical community in their misguided attempt to serve public health, but another win-win for drug companies who seek to obtain more customers from birth until death.

Crying is commonly thought of as a reaction to pain or unpleasant stimulation, but its appearance often is unprovoked and dissociated from physiological indices of distress. It is by nature highly adaptive to parents in that it motivates care and often highly maladaptive to conventional medicine in that it motivates abuse.

The team of researchers from Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island has developed a new computer-based tool to perform finely tuned acoustic analyses of babies’ cries.

The new analyzer is the result of a two-year collaboration between faculty in Brown’s School of Engineering and hospital-based faculty at Women & Infants Hospital. A paper describing the tool is in press in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.

The new analyzer is the result of a two-year collaboration between faculty in Brown’s School of Engineering and hospital-based faculty at Women & Infants Hospital. A paper describing the tool is in press in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.

The system operates in two phases. During the first phase, the analyzer separates recorded cries into 12.5-millisecond frames. Each frame is analyzed for several parameters, including frequency characteristics, voicing, and acoustic volume. The second phase uses data from the first to give a broader view of the cry and reduces the number of parameters to those that are most useful. The frames are put back together and characterized either as an utterance -- a single “wah” -- or silence, the pause between utterances. Longer utterances are separated from shorter ones and the time between utterances is recorded. Pitch, including the contour of pitch over time, and other variables can then be averaged across each utterance.

In the end, the system evaluates for 80 different parameters, each with its own margin of error in an attempt to diagnose symptoms of a baby’s health.

Because crying is the primary means of communication for very young
infants and continues to be an important part of the emotional repertoire of adults, it has received a good deal of attention from researchers who wish to exploit an infant's most natural instinct in an attempt to diagnose and medicate as early as possible.

"There is demonstrable evidence that clinicians often develop diagnostic tools which lead to early and unnecessary medical intervention, especially relating to the psychiatric allopathic model," said pediatric specialist Dr. Marta Gonzales.

However, creators of the technology defend their research. “It’s a comprehensive tool for getting as much important stuff out of a baby cry that we can,” said Harvey Silverman, professor of engineering and director of Brown’s Laboratory for Engineering Man/Machine Systems.

To understand what important "stuff" to look for, Silverman and his graduate students worked with Sheinkopf and Barry Lester, director of Brown’s Center for the Study of Children at Risk.

“We looked at them as the experts about the kinds of signals we might want to get,” Silverman said, “and we engineers were the experts on what we might actually be able to implement and methods to do so. So working together worked quite well.”

The claim by Lester is that if neurological deficits change the way babies are able to control their vocal chords, those tiny differences might manifest themselves in differences in pitch and other acoustic features. He has published several controversial and rather unscientific papers showing how differences in a cry are linked to medical problems stemming ironically from prenatal drug exposure and other risks.

None of Lester's research focuses on the simulataneous problems that
the study of crying in infancy must address, namely the biology of behavior through causation, survival value, evolution, and ontogeny. Omitting any one of the four blurs the boundaries especially relating to the developmental timetable of infant and why many acoustic signals are necessary at specific developmental stages in specific infants who then turn out to be fully functional toddlers without any known health problems at all.

The research tools also fails to draw on previous findings and theoretical perspectives from diverse disciplines including cultural anthropology, physiology, clinical neurology, pediatric medicine, and developmental psychology among worldwide populations.

This new automated analyzer enables researchers to evaluate cries quickly and in great detail. The Brown team plans to make it available to Physicians and researchers around the world in the hopes of developing new avenues of cry research, eventually related to the pharmaceutical treatement of disorders in infants.

Sheinkopf, who specializes in developmental disorders, plans to use the tool to look for cry features that might suggest intervention for austism at an early age.

Despite the fact that neural substrates underlying crying in autistic children are not well understood especially maturational explanations,
Sheinkopf stated, "“we’ve known for a long time that older individuals with autism produce sounds or vocalizations that are unusual or vocalizations in babies have been discussed as being useful in developing early identification tools for autism. That’s been a major challenge. How do you find signs of autism in infancy?”

Sheinkopf wants to find that answer encoded in a cry.

“Early detection of developmental disorders is critical,” Lester added. He claims it can lead to interventions to reduce the severity of impairment implied through drug treatment.

Mothers Are The Ulimate Crying Analyzers

The target of the signal for cyring is not a machine or analyzer, it is a mother. Crying evolved as a signal to alert mothers and
elicit caregiving and there are reciprocal mechanisms from mothers that can never be decoded by a machine. The female body has evolved for perceiving and responding appropriately to infant cries. Ask any mother and very high percentage will be able to identify the cry type of their infant accurately.

Even in female subjects who are not hormonally primed and have no prior caregiving experience, women demonstratie superior perceptual abilities in identifying why infants cry.

Mothers and mothers-to-be, please do not allow the medical community to intervene in the healthy development of your child. Your nuturing insinct will never guide you in the wrong direction and a machine will never override or be more accurate than your intuition about your child.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.

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