Duke scientists build app that could detect autism


  • A digital app was developed by Duke University scientists that could detect autism.
  • The app ━ using short movies and gaze detection technology ━ can be used using a smartphone or tablet.
  • The research team is already planning to formally launch the app.

Another innovation that could be put into beneficial use is the development of a new app that could detect autism by just using a smartphone. 

The app, which was created by Duke University scientists, utilizes short films and gaze detection technology to determine whether children are more fond of looking at objects or at human characters ━ an indication of the illness.

“We know that babies who have autism pay attention to the environment differently and are not paying as much attention to people,” director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, and co-senior author of a study Dr. Geraldine Dawson said in a statement.

“We can track eye gaze patterns in toddlers to assess risk for autism. This is the first time that we’ve been able to provide this type of assessment using only a smartphone or tablet. This study served as a proof-of-concept, and we’re very encouraged.”

The team, which is being led by Dr. Zhuoqing Chang, Dawson and others, started building the app a few years back. And now as of the present, the researchers were able to develop films that would enable them to measure the child’s behavior whether it focuses more on people or objects.

One sample movie shows an energetic woman playing with a spinning-top. The woman was on one side of the screen while the top she’s playing with is on the other end. The research showed that children without autism have gone through the entire screen while the clip was playing, as they concentrated more on the woman. On the other hand, toddlers who gave more focus on the spinning top throughout the video were later diagnosed with autism.

In previous technologies, eye-tracking was used to determine gaze patterns among people who had the disorder. A special equipment was needed, alongside expertise and great analysis to recognize the illness. This new invention, though, would only require a few minutes to use, with the aid of a smartphone or tablet, and the device’s front-facing camera. This could be easily made available to healthcare clinics and even at home.

“This was the technical achievement many years in the making,” Chang said.

 “It required our research team to design the movies in a specific way to elicit and measure the gaze patterns of attention using only a handheld device. It’s amazing how far we’ve come to achieve this ability to assess eye gaze without specialized equipment, using a common device many have in their pocket,” he added.

The research team is looking forward to launching the app even though the technology is still on initial runs.

The research was published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal.

Source: Study Finds

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