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New Eye-Tracking Device Can Diagnose Autism in 30 Minutes

Two new studies found that a new eye-tracking device can accurately detect autism using data obtained while a child watches a video.

Parents and caregivers are often the first to notice the signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their child. However, diagnosing autism can be a long and challenging process, which is often delayed due to lack of access to qualified clinicians.

For example, a study published this year in The Journal of Pediatrics found that the average delay from first screening to autism diagnosis was over two years.

Though scientists are working on new autism tests using smartphone games, screening questionnaires, and hearing assessments, more tools are needed to ensure autistic children receive an accurate and timely diagnosis.

Now, two new studies published on September 5 in JAMA and JAMA Network Open found that a new eye-tracking tool can diagnose autism and measure levels of social disability and verbal and nonverbal ability in children under age 3.

The device, called EarliPoint Evaluation for Autism Spectrum Disorder, was cleared by the FDA on June 29 to help clinicians diagnose ASD. It tracks a toddler's looking behavior and assesses focal points 120 times per second while the child watches social scenes on a video screen.

Looking behavior is a significant indicator of neurodevelopmental conditions like autism. For example, signs of autism include a tendency to avoid eye contact and a reduced interest in social engagement. The new test helps determine whether a child's eye gaze focuses on faces or objects and how often the child's gaze deviates from one focal point.

The JAMA Network Open study tested the device on 1,089 children with an average age of 22 months, and the JAMA research tested the eye-tracking tool on 475 children aged 16 to 30 months at six autism specialty clinics.

Both studies found that the new device could predict autism with a high level of sensitivity and specificity, comparable to clinician assessments. What's more, the EarliPoint Evaluation could generate a result in less than 30 minutes and determine the child's level of social disability, verbal ability, and nonverbal ability.

Moreover, because the device consists of watching videos, it's likely less stressful for the child compared to typical assessments that may take hours to complete.

Still, the researchers say that the new autism diagnostic device is not intended to replace expert clinicians. Instead, it may be able to offer supplemental data to help healthcare providers diagnose autism. After diagnosis, providers can use the assessment results to develop support and intervention plans tailored to the child.


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