New technique to detect autism in children said to be quick and accurate

A new technique to detect autism in children has been developed by a team of researchers led by University of Waterloo. This new technique is said to more quickly and accurately detect autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children.

In the study researchers characterized how children with ASD scan a person’s face differently than a neuro-typical child. Based on the findings, the researchers were able to develop a technique that considers how a child with ASD gaze transitions from one part of a person’s face to another. The new technique is said to be less stressful for children and if combined with existing manual methods could help doctors better avoid a false positive autism diagnosis.

To develop the new technique researchers evaluated 17 children with ASD and 23 neuro-typical children. Each participant was shown 44 photographs of faces on a 19-inch screen, integrated into an eye-tracking system. The infrared device interpreted and identified the locations on the stimuli at which each child was looking via emission and reflection of wave from the iris.

The images were separated into seven key areas of interest (AOIs) in which participants focussed their gaze: under the right eye, right eye, under the left eye, left eye, nose, mouth and other parts of the screen. The researchers wanted to know more than how much time the participants spent looking at each AOI, but also how they moved their eyes and scan the faces. To get that information, the researchers used four different concepts from network analysis to evaluate the varying degree of importance the children placed on the seven AOIs when exploring the facial features.

The first concept determined the number of other AOIs that the participant directly moves their eyes to and from a particular AOI. The second concept looked at how often a particular AOI is involved when the participant moves their eyes between two other AOIs as quickly as possible. The third concept is related to how quickly one can move their eyes from a particular AOI to other AOIs. The fourth concept measured the importance of an AOI, in the context of eye movement and face scanning, by the number of important AOIs that it shares direct transitions with.

Currently, the two most favoured ways of assessing ASD involve a questionnaire or an evaluation from a psychologist.