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App In Works To Screen For Autism

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With evidence that computer software may be able to spot signs of autism in young children just as well as trained experts, researchers are looking to make the technology widely available via an app.

Current behavioral tests require a clinician to observe an infant’s response when a toy is shaken or a ball rolls toward them, for example, counting the seconds it takes for a child to react appropriately.

Now researchers at Duke University have developed software to track an infant’s response to such stimuli by analyzing eye gaze, walking patterns and motor skills. Rather than count seconds like a clinician, the software can track a child’s reaction time down to tenths of a second, they said.

In a small trial of 12 children ages 5 to 18 months, researchers found the software was just as good at flagging behavioral signs of autism as experienced clinicians. What’s more, the technology performed better than students in training and medical professionals without expertise in autism screening, according to findings published online in the journal Autism Research and Treatment.

The team of autism and computer experts behind the study now say they are looking to test an app based on the software. Optimally, they’re hoping that schools and parents could use the technology to screen children for autism and determine if a more extensive clinical evaluation is warranted.

“We’re not trying to replace the experts,” said Jordan Hashemi of Duke who worked on the study. “We’re trying to transfer the knowledge of the relatively few autism experts available into classrooms and homes across the country.”

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  1. Ann Remington says:

    As a professional and a grandmother who has a grandson with a aspergers diagnosis, I welcome this. It will provide evidence rather than a person judgement. As my daughter and I fought for services it was difficult because it was easy for school staff to imply that everything was our subjective opionion. Even as he was sitting on the lap of one of them at our transition to pre-school meeting, banging his head on the table. When I spoke up as they were telling us that he no longer needed services, asking “is anyone else seeing this”, the response was “well any child would do this after sitting here for a while”. I had to insist that they note the behavior in their report and move on to the next battle. Thank god for an excellent local child psychiatrist who was able to identify each of his diagnostic symptoms. TEACCH, which is an excellent program with trained clinicians, struggled to decide whether to provide an Aspergers or Austism diagnosis. These new tools would really help them clearly and more objectively define the correct diagnosis. These new technologies are a god sent for professionals and parents alike. Excellent. Thank you for reporting on this.

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