Caution Parents: New At Home Device May Misdiagnose, Autism

By ICare4Autism Staff

A new device has been designed to detect early signs of autism in toddlers. For around $200, the LENA Language and Autism Screen (LAS) is being marketed to parents. Doctors are worried about the possibility that parents will amplify minor symptoms and wrongly assume their children are autistic.

Language and Autism Screen (LAS) is being marketed to parents

Language and Autism Screen (LAS) is being marketed to parents

“It’s not a diagnosis, it’s a detection. We wouldn’t recommend someone use this screen as a diagnosis,” said Mia Moe, director of communications at the LENA Foundation. “You really need to bring this information to a professional.”

Doctors need to screen children for autism because there is no medical test. Autism has varying degrees of severity and the symptoms are placed on a large spectrum. Children with autism often have a severe lack of eye contact. However, just because a child occasionally avoids eye contact does not mean they have autism.

“Parents typically know there’s something going on,” said Moe. “But, most regular visits with the pediatricians are 8-15 minutes at the most.”

To secure an appointment with a specialist, parents often need to call weeks or even months in advance. The diagnostic procedure is lengthy because it consists of specialized tests that can take hours. If a child is diagnosed, there is a plethora of products available marketed especially for autism.

The non-profit LENA foundation designed the LAS device after five years of research in hopes to “develop advanced technology for the early screening, diagnosis, research, and treatment of language delays and disorders in children and adults,” according to their Web site.

The pocket sized device slips conveniently into a pair of specifically designed pair of overalls. For an accurate reading the device has to record the 24-month to 48-month-old child for a full 12- hour day and is then shipped back to LENA.

“As a parent there are a lot of products coming out at us all days,” said Marguerite Kirst Colston, mother of a 9-year-old boy with autism as well as the vice president for constituent relations at the Autism Society. “Perhaps it could be a good additive, but as a screening tool – as a parent, I paused.” 

Moe said the idea to release the LENA technology to the general public came from two parents of children with autism who are also members of LENA’s scientific advisory board. They believed the LENA research could be suitable for autism screening.

When the device is received by the LENA employees, they use their audio algorithms to compare and contrast the child’s recorded vocalizations to those of other children previously evaluated in the LENA database. An official assessment is mailed out to the parents.

Moe said the goal of this device was to help parents screen their children and get an earlier diagnosis.

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