December 2023

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Health Capsule

App Aids Autism Screening

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects how a person behaves, communicates, interacts with others, and learns. It’s called a “spectrum disorder” because symptoms can vary widely. Early diagnosis can lead to early treatment and improved outcomes. But ASD can be hard to diagnose.

Kids are often screened for ASD before age 3 at well-child medical visits. Screening is usually based on a caregiver questionnaire. But scientists have been looking for ways to improve early detection.

An NIH-supported research team created a mobile app that might help. While a child watches videos on a tablet, the app collects a wide range of data. It tracks the child’s eye gaze, head movements, expressions, blinking, and other behaviors linked to ASD.

The app was tested in 475 toddlers, ages 17 months to 3 years. It correctly identified nearly 90% of the children who were later diagnosed with ASD. The app also identified over 80% of the kids who did not have ASD. The researchers now have a new study underway to see if parents can effectively use the app at home.

“This screening tool captures a wide range of behaviors that more accurately reflect the complexity and variability found in autism,” says Dr. Geraldine Dawson, who co-led the study along with Dr. Guillermo Sapiro at Duke University. “This app could help clinicians focus on the areas in which the child needs help, as well as identify areas of strength.”

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