A trip to the doctor’s office to get an autism diagnosis may one day be unnecessary, with new research finding that the disorder can be accurately identified in many kids via telemedicine.

The findings from what’s being called a first-of-its-kind study could have big implications, enabling faster identification of young children on the spectrum, researchers say.

“This study proves remote diagnosis of autism is not only feasible, but under specified circumstances can be highly accurate,” said Zachary Warren, associate professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and behavioral sciences and special education at Vanderbilt University and a senior author of the study. “Appropriate use of telemedicine consultation could radically increase our capacity for reaching young children who are referred for an autism evaluation in a timely manner.”

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For the study, licensed clinical psychologists with expertise in autism remotely evaluated 20 children who had been flagged for the disorder using computer technology to observe the kids and interview their parents. Then, a different licensed psychologist performed an in-person assessment.

The remote psychologists accurately identified children who had autism in 78.9 percent of cases, the study found, and no children were incorrectly diagnosed.

Subsequently, a second trial looked at 45 kids who participated in the remote assessment and an in-person evaluation from an early interventionist. The psychologists diagnosed 64 percent of these children with autism remotely, but were not confident in saying whether an additional 13 percent of the kids were on the spectrum.

While further research is needed, those behind the study said their findings suggest that remote evaluations could be a viable way to assess many kids suspected of having autism. The approach could be especially valuable for families living in more remote areas without access to specialists, they said.

“Telediagnostic assessment could help us provide answers to families who otherwise may be left on their own to grapple with challenging questions for long periods of time,” said Amy Weitlauf, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt and a co-author of the study.

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