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Simple Eye-Tracking Test Can Diagnose ASD Among Children: Can This Solve Autism?

Update Date: Apr 08, 2016 05:32 AM EDT
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A simple eye-tracking test can now help diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children, say researchers from the University of Vermont. ASD could reportedly be identified in children at early stages with the help of simple virtual conversations.

Autism is diagnosed usually with parental reports accompanied by conventional diagnostic techniques and observations made in children. However, recent studies from University of Vermont and Cleveland Clinic establish a connection between ASD and the eyes of children.

Cleveland Clinic made use of eye-tracking technology to detect autism in children; the study was focused on the time spent in observing a variety of objects by children at-risk of ASD. The study report published in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has it that the method helped diagnose 80 percent of children with the disorder, aged between 3 and 8, according to UPI.

Dr. Thomas Frazier, the lead author of the study noted that it is important to detect ASD as early as possible in children in order for appropriate intervention.

"The lack of objective methods for identifying children with autism can be a major impediment to early diagnosis," said Frazier. "Remote eye tracking is easy to use with young children and our study shows that it has excellent potential to enhance identification and, because it is objective, may increase parents' acceptance of the diagnosis, allowing their children to get treatment faster," he added.

In another study, researchers from the University of Vermont observed that children with ASD focus on the speaker's mouth rather than looking into the person's eyes during conversation. The patients tend to miss "important social cues" when they fail to have eye contact with people, especially during emotional conversations.

Autistic children that move their eyes to speaker's mouth are observed to have severe autism and also have issues with intellectual and verbal skills. Researchers are hopeful that specialized software for tracking eye-movements during webcam conversation can help diagnose the disorder in children at the earliest.

"If I'm asking you to talk about emotions and that makes you even less likely to look in my eyes - when you really need to go there because I'm more likely to be showing other evidence of an emotion like anger with my eyebrows - you are missing even more," said Dr Tiffany Hutchins, lead author of a paper at University of Vermont, reported Independent.

"It's not that there's no emotional information in the mouth, but during dynamic conversational exchanges, they are missing a number of cues that a typically developing child would not," added Hutchins.

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