A recent study by Duke University has found an iPhone app to be useful in screening young children for signs of autism, according to Duke Today. Caregivers have welcomed the app and researchers said it has produced reliable scientific information.
The app undergoes caregiver consent forms and survey questions before using the phone’s camera. It then gathers videos of the child’s reaction to movies designed to prompt autism risk behaviors, including emotion and attention patterns.
The videos of the child are sent to servers where automatic behavioral coding software tracks movement on the child’s face and quantifies emotion and attention behavior.
For example, a movie showing bubbles floating across the screen should result in facial movements that indicate joy on the child’s face. In the study, children whose parents thought their child showed symptoms of autism often displayed less expressions of joy to the movie with bubbles.
Normally, autism screenings are done at a clinic and not in the child’s natural environment. With the app available from the Apple store and based on Apple’s ResearchKit open source development platform, no physical clinic is needed.
In one year, the app has been downloaded over 10,000 times, and approximately 1,700 families participated in the study. Almost 90 percent of the data from uploaded videos was useable, and the app was used as a tool for observing and coding behavior in one’s natural environment.
“This demonstrates the feasibility of this approach,” said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development and co-leader of the study. “Many caregivers were willing to participate, the data was high quality and the video analysis algorithms produced results consistent with the scoring we produce in our autism program here at Duke.”
Using the app could help track a child’s behavioral changes over time in their natural setting. The app includes many questions used for original autism screening, and if parents report a high level of autism on the questionnaire it recommends they talk to a health care provider.
“This technology has the potential to transform how we screen and monitor children’s development,” said Guillermo Sapiro, co-leader of the study.