To this day, diagnosing autism remains a complex set of clinical interviews and medical tests, none of which is 100% effective.
This, as you might imagine, is a real problem. The final diagnosis can be delayed for several years until the conclusion of what is in front of us is finally reached.
Despite the fact that we believe we know the brain origin of the disorder, the reality is that to diagnose autism we currently rely on clinical data; in other words, the diagnosis is based only on symptoms and not on objective tests. However, this could change thanks to two completely independent studies that have reached the same conclusion.
Diagnosing autism through eye movements
Two groups of researchers, from the Cleveland Clinic from Ohio and published in the Journal of American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; and of the University of Vermontand published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders respectively, have discovered very similar diagnostic techniques to arrive at diagnose autism quickly, easily, cheaply and precise.
In this case, it will be necessary to use the monitoring of the movement of the eyes through a software and a webcam, in a very similar way to the current diagnosis of some types of vertigo. This method will be added to other previous studies where it has been proposed to use other methods to diagnose autism through saliva or smell.
The two methods of diagnosing autism using gaze
In the first study, led by Thomas Frazier, the researchers were able to diagnose autism correctly 80% of the time in children between 3 and 8 years old, who were already known to have a high risk of developing the disease. In this case, the time these children used to focus on social and non-social aspects of a series of images and videos was analyzed.
Lack of objective methods for diagnosing autism in children can be a major obstacle to early diagnosis. Our research shows that eye monitoring has great potential to improve this identification and, being an objective method, can increase the acceptance of the diagnosis by parents and therefore be able to start treatment sooner.
On the other hand, in the second study carried out by Tiffany Hutchins and her colleagues, it was shown that Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder spend more time looking for the mouths of the speakers when the conversation becomes more emotional. In this case the researchers used existing software (the system Mirametrix S2 Eye Tracker and Skype), which may further assist us in the future treatment of children with autism.
In this case Hutchins claims that topics of conversation are very important for those individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, since emotional issues may need to perform executive functions of the brain that demand the functioning of working memory; In this case, children with autism try to find accessible information (such as the mouths of their interlocutors).
It should be noted, finally, that both studies have had a small number of participants (less than 50 individuals in both studies), which implies that more research in this regard will be necessary to clarify whether these methods so similar to each other could help us diagnose autism in an objective, clear and early way.