Health & Wellbeing

To diagnose autism, watch the eyes

Study results were very positive, with researchers believing that eye-tracking tech could be a cost effective and accurate method for early diagnosis of the condition
Study results were very positive, with researchers believing that eye-tracking tech could be a cost effective and accurate method for early diagnosis of the condition
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Study results were very positive, with researchers believing that eye-tracking tech could be a cost effective and accurate method for early diagnosis of the condition
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Study results were very positive, with researchers believing that eye-tracking tech could be a cost effective and accurate method for early diagnosis of the condition

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.

Sources: Cleveland Clinic, Elsevier

8 comments
AngelaRuzzo
The researchers better make sure the children's vision has been properly tested first. I needed glasses when I was 7 years old, but it wasn't my parents who noticed this, it was my 2nd grade teacher. Without good vision, some children might fail this test.
rcprimak
Actually, this test does not depend on normal eyesight or visual tracking. It has to do with the attention paid to nonsocial vs. social images. This is an area of visual behavior which does not require good visual fusion or tracking to be relevant and predictive. Further testing should be done whenever an autism spectrum disorder is suspected, but early intervention is key to developing successful strategies in coping with either having an autistic condition (from the child's perspective) or having a child with such a disorder (from the parent's perspective). Inexpensive but valid early predictors can also help in getting help to more of the school-age children who will need accommodations.
Bob Stuart
That test would probably have worked on me, but I would not have had the opportunity because my mother was pretending to be normal, and it would have made her feel vulnerable. She could have been diagnosed on the same criteria just by looking at her photographs.
MaryannSchrembeck
I knew when my grandson was less than 3 months old that he was autistic because he would not look at anyone. He was definitively diagnosed at 18 months and as a result received early intervention.
RayleneCoe
My husband thought our newborn son was playing a 'game' because every time we'd look him 'in the eye' he'd look elsewhere. We didn't know to bring this to our doctor's attention. We did not get an early diagnosis and I wish we had because he was a VERY difficult toddler and really wasn't ready for school at age 5. I think his delays might not have been as pronounced had we had early diagnosis.
David A Galler
Maybe this will help with some very difficult diagnoses.
MichaelCohn
You don't need eye tracking to diagnose autism. What you need is good clinical training, the ability to pay attention, the ability to take a good history, and prior exposure to autistic children over a fairly long period of time. If you have these things, the condition becomes obvious.
Charlie03
Cleveland is way behind the most cutting-edge research – they are talking about diagnosing at 3 yrs old. Dr. Ami Klin (one of the world’s most highly regarded experts – recruited here from Yale) at the Marcus Autism Center can diagnose it in INFANTS using a computer screen that tracks eye movements. The average age of diagnosis is 5 yrs. and by then it is really too late. Diagnosing it very early (12 months old) can allow them to do interventional therapies that virtually ELIMINATE the symptoms…they are cautiously using the "C" word…..
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