To diagnose autism, watch the eyes
When diagnosing autism spectrumdisorder (ASD) in children, doctors currently rely on reports fromparents, and direct observations, but those methods don't always produceconcrete results. Now, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic havelooked to remote eye tracking to help streamline the process, providing a solid, early diagnosis that lets treatment start more quickly.
The researchers worked with two groupsof patients, aged three to eight, thought to be at high risk ofhaving the condition, testing them with an eye tracking system thatrecorded the amount of time spent focusing on social and non-socialaspects of a selection of images and videos. The amount of timelooking at the two on-screen object types was then used to give thepatients a rating between one and five, on what the researchers callthe Autism Risk Index.
The results strongly supported doctors'diagnosis of the patients, with 80 percent of the cases beingcorrectly identified. The index was also considered more useful thannormal diagnostic techniques, as it gave an indication of theseverity of each case, rather than just a negative/positive result.
The researchers believe that the testcould provide earlier diagnosis of the condition, in turn allowingtreatment to kick off earlier in patients' lives. Having a moreclear-cut test for the condition could also help loved ones acceptthe diagnosis.
"The lack of objective methods foridentifying children with autism can be a major impediment to earlydiagnosis," said team lead Dr Thomas W Frazier. "Remote eyetracking is easy to use with young children and our study shows thatit has excellent potential to enhance identification and, because itis objective, may increase parents' acceptance of the diagnosis,allowing their children to get treatment faster."
In order to verify the results, theresearchers plan to conduct trials with a larger number ofparticipants. In light of the positive results, they believe that the use of remote eye gazetracking could be a straightforward, cost-effective and accuratemethod for diagnosing the condition. It could also be used followingtreatment to assess whether the chosen course of action is provingeffective.
The findings of the research will be published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.