Logo: University of Southern California

Laughter and Autism

How Shri Narayanan will use laughter to help diagnose and treat autism
by: Katie McKissick
April 30, 2014 —

Listen to the full episode.

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in eight children in the United States today. This chronic neurological condition is accompanied by social impairments, communication difficulties and a variety of repetitive behaviors. While the medical community is actively searching for the cause of autism, engineers like Shri Narayanan at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering are lending a hand with diagnosis and treatment.

LaughterinOne of the social interactions that autism spectrum disorder affects is laughter. Laughter itself is a complicated dance of sounds, cues and timing. Narayanan is collecting data on children’s laughs during interactions with clinicians, and this information can eventually be used to not only diagnose but also help inform the treatment of autism.

One of the difficulties of treating a disorder as complex and nuanced as autism is quantifying a patient’s progress. Even if a child works with the same person over time, evaluations are mostly subjective. What Narayanan can add with data collected on laughter are objective measurements that can give a clear snapshot of improvement over time.

Listen to these quick clips of Narayanan explaining how we diagnose autism and why we want to better understand laughter.