Can You Screen Your Child for Autism at Home?


As autism gets turns into real epidemic and more children get diagnosed with autism every year, it’s very important to recognize autism at its earliest stage. Early intervention and timely treatment can minimize some of the side effects of the disorder, leaving good chances for the better future for children and parents. Unfortunately, not every family can get screening on time due to many reasons, such as financial, living in remote areas, low autism awareness and education in the region, lack of professionals, etc.

Nowadays, mobile devices, apps and other technical inventions can help us to screen the disorder and begin treatment at its first signs.

Duke’s Medicine University has developed a new app called Autism and Beyond, launched in October 2015. It’s one of seven medical mobile apps available for download. However, it’s not free.

This app relies on questionnaires and video analysis of emotions. When parents first open the app, they come across a series of eligibility questions and other facts about the study. Once the test begins, children watch three videos that are based on the same exercises that psychologists use to diagnose autism. The clips show toys that involve moving balls or women singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” As the child stares into the iPhone screen, the app uses the phone’s front camera to record and examine facial expressions.

Then, parents can send the video to researchers, who will study the facial expressions using special algorithm. Parents are also provided with a feedback about the child’s risk of having autism and suggestions for dealing with different behaviors.

The app is scalable and user-friendly. More than 2,300 people have participated in the study since the launch date in 2015. Although it worked well, the researchers need more evidences that the video analysis tool is reliable but it definitely allows parents to detect and treat autism sooner.

“The difference between doing something when people come into a clinic setting versus providing an opportunity for parents to participate in research in the comfort of their own home is a big difference,” said Dr. Helen Egger, chief of Duke’s division of child and family mental health and neurology and a co-leader of the app’s development team.

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