New App May Help Initially Screen for ASD

autism-and-beyond-app-11Technological advances have shown to be incredibly beneficial to the autism community in recent years, with new apps and products being used to help children develop a wide set of skills. Furthermore, apps are being released to actually aid in the detection of autism disorders in young children.

ResearchKit, technology developed by Apple, has recently started Autism & Beyond, a new study of childhood mental health. Users of the app can participate in the study, aiming to help parents screen children themselves in their own homes. The study and app are a result of the partnership between Duke University and Duke Medical Center.

Dr. Guillermo Sapiro, professor at Duke, carefully developed the algorithm for the app. The complex mathematical algorithm automatically maps key landmarks on the faces of children, and then assess their emotional response based on the extent of the movement in their face.

He states, “We analyze the video to track position and movement of the head and face, including the lips, eyes and nose, all of which indicate emotions.” He continues, “For example, while watching stimuli like a funny video, does the child smile, look toward the caregiver or ask the caregiver to view the video as well? We study all of that. Lack of emotion and social sharing are possible characteristics of childhood autism.”

Although parents and caregivers cannot self-diagnose, and this app does not serve in place of a doctor, it serves as potential tool to screen for developmental challenges, and therefore can possibly lead parents towards proper medical testing. This could lead to providing therapies and tailored education practices that can most benefit the child.

This technology could potentially be a breakthrough for earlier autism diagnoses, as well as other disorders or disabilities. According to Dr. Sapiro, the technology could be further developed to screen for PTSD and depression. This app shows great promise in aiding both children and adults with emotional, neurodevelopmental, and cognitive disorders.

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