It often takes hours for a clinician to diagnose a child with autism, but a Harvard researcher now says it may be possible to complete an assessment that’s just as accurate within minutes.
Using a Web-based tool that relies on just seven questions and a short home video, Dennis Wall, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, says he can provide a near perfect assessment of whether or not a child has autism.
“We believe this approach will make it possible for more children to be accurately diagnosed during the early critical period when behavioral therapies are most effective,” Wall said.
In contrast, children are typically diagnosed through lengthy, clinical evaluations. One popular method known as the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised, relies on 93 questions.
The new method developed by Wall can cut diagnosis time by almost 95 percent, researchers said in a paper about the approach that was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Translational Psychiatry.
When tested against traditional methods in more than 1,000 cases, Wall says that his shortened diagnosis procedure achieved near perfect accuracy.
The development could be significant, given the rising number of children with autism. Just last month the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that autism prevalence increased to 1 in 88 children, up from 1 in 110. At the same time, the government agency said most children still aren’t diagnosed by age 3, meaning that they are missing out on several critical years of early intervention.
Wall says his method could be pivotal in allowing for more kids to be diagnosed at younger ages since families can take initial steps toward getting a diagnosis without leaving home.
However, many others within the autism community are skeptical that an accurate diagnosis could be achieved without any face-to-face interaction with an expert.
“Arguing you should do this via a five-minute video and a seven-minute questionnaire is ridiculous,” Catherine Lord, the director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at New York Presbyterian Hospital, told TIME. “Even if you do identify a child with autism, it’s not an adequate diagnosis. You still are going to have to talk to parents and interact with the child.”