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Autism App Shows Potential for Early Detection of Spectrum Disorder

Posted by Brian Spence on Nov 28, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Autism, Behavioral HealthOne of the challenges of treating autism in children is detecting the condition at an early enough stage to intervene. But researchers have found a way to improve the odds of detection by using a new mobile software application.

The app works by tracking eye movements that indicate signs of autism spectrum disorder, according to the New York Daily News.

The new app comes from research at the University of Buffalo. The app’s eye-tracking feature has applications in autism because kids on the spectrum have eye movements that go all over a given image in contrast to a child that does not have the disorder, and instead has more focused eye movement. By tracking how a child’s eye moves over images of social scenes, the app can assess whether a child is on the spectrum. Kun Woo Cho, the student who authored a published study about the research, told the Daily News that research suggests that a child on the spectrum reacts differently than other children due to the inability to interpret and understand the nature of the relationship pictured in the social scene.

According to the research, an early version of the app showed a 93.6 percent accuracy rate in detecting autism. The app is also fast, requiring less than one minute to screen each child. This preliminary study evaluated 32 children ages 2 to 10. That’s critical because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that despite the prevalence of children on the spectrum, clinicians often do not suspect the disorder until the child starts attending school. The University of Buffalo app could offer a way of identifying the disorder earlier, and more quickly.

Cho and her advisor, Wenyao Xu, plan to study the app in a larger group of as many as 400 children. The Daily News notes that the researchers want to also see if the app has other neurological applications in conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. While this work is still in its earliest stages, the app is showing promise at identifying the disorder in children.

To learn more about this and related areas, visit the Behavioral Health section of our blog.


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