Hyperacusis, defined as decreased tolerance to sound at levels that would not trouble most individuals, is frequently observed in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Despite the functional impairment attributable to hyperacusis, little is known about its prevalence or natural history in the ASD population. The objective of this study was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis estimating the current and lifetime prevalence of hyperacusis in children, adolescents, and adults with ASD. By precisely estimating the burden of hyperacusis in the ASD population, the present study aims to enhance recognition of this particular symptom of ASD and highlight the need for additional research into the causes, prevention, and treatment of hyperacusis in persons on the spectrum.
We searched PubMed and ProQuest to identify peer-reviewed articles published in English after January 1993. We additionally performed targeted searches of Google Scholar and the gray literature, including studies published through May 2020. Eligible studies included at least 20 individuals with diagnosed ASD of any age and reported data from which the proportion of ASD individuals with current and/or lifetime hyperacusis could be derived. To account for multiple prevalence estimates derived from the same samples, we utilized three-level Bayesian random-effects meta-analyses to estimate the current and lifetime prevalence of hyperacusis. Bayesian meta-regression was used to assess potential moderators of current hyperacusis prevalence. To reduce heterogeneity due to varying definitions of hyperacusis, we performed a sensitivity analysis on the subset of studies that ascertained hyperacusis status using the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), a structured parent interview.
A total of 7783 nonduplicate articles were screened, of which 67 were included in the review and synthesis. Hyperacusis status was ascertained in multiple ways across studies, with 60 articles employing interviews or questionnaires and seven using behavioral observations or objective measures. The mean (range) age of samples in the included studies was 7.88 years (1.00 to 34.89 years). The meta-analysis of interview/questionnaire measures (k(3) = 103, nASD = 13,093) estimated the current and lifetime prevalence of hyperacusis in ASD to be 41.42% (95% CrI, 37.23 to 45.84%) and 60.58% (50.37 to 69.76%), respectively. A sensitivity analysis restricted to prevalence estimates derived from the ADI-R (k(3) = 25, nASD = 5028) produced similar values. The estimate of current hyperacusis prevalence using objective/observational measures (k(3) = 8, nASD = 488) was 27.30% (14.92 to 46.31%). Heterogeneity in the full sample of interview/questionnaire measures was substantial but not significantly explained by any tested moderator. However, prevalence increased sharply with increasing age in studies using the ADI-R (BF10 = 93.10, R2Het = 0.692).
In this meta-analysis, we found a high prevalence of current and lifetime hyperacusis in individuals with ASD, with a majority of individuals on the autism spectrum experiencing hyperacusis at some point in their lives. The high prevalence of hyperacusis in individuals with ASD across the lifespan highlights the need for further research on sound tolerance in this population and the development of services and/or interventions to reduce the burden of this common symptom.