New research suggests that a basic iPhone app could begin helping to screen young children for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) without having to be in a medical setting.

The app, called Autism and Beyond, guides families through some questionnaires on their background alongside any concerns about their child and any possible signs of autism. Finally, the parents are instructed to use the app to record videos of their kids as they watch four short movies designed to bring out certain behaviors.

Using  these methods, the “app provided data consistent with what we see in a traditional clinical research setting” (Egger et al., 2018), according to the conclusion of the article published earlier this month in the journal npj Digital Medicine.

Helen L. Egger, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, led the study  where more than 1,750 families submitted information and videos of their children between the ages of 1 to 6 to the app for study. Using an algorithm, researchers tracked facial movements and coded each child’s emotions and attention. The software was able to recognize children at higher risks for autism, who tended to have a more neutral response to the stimulation in the videos.

Despite the fact that autism can be diagnosed at as young as 18 months, most individuals are not diagnosed until after age four, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers hope the findings  will help make these technologies more popular and therefore speed up the diagnosis and treatment process. Additionally, this low-cost method would allow screening for those who do not have the finances for the medical care, while screening in a safe and familiar environment for the child. Overall, researchers just hope this can introduce parents from a variety of backgrounds to screening their children for autism at an early age. Currently, this service has only been tested on very young children, and there is no word to if this could be used on older children, teenagers, and adults.


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