Your smartphone just got a bit more intelligent because now it knows how to help parents detect early signs and symptoms of autism in their children. Designed by Kun Woo Cho, an undergraduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo, this smartphone app can potentially uncover autism in children as young as two. And while it’s not definitive – you should never assume your child is autistic merely because an app says they are – it’s a welcomed option for parents who might not know where else to turn.
The Incidence of Autism
Autism isn’t the uncommon; according to the Autism Society, about one percent of the world’s population has an autism spectrum disorder. Of course, the severity of these disorders is extremely variable. Some people with autism are highly functioning and excel in their careers; others have a much more difficult time with everyday tasks.
Autism is best treated early when the brain is still growing and developing. This is why knowing the symptoms at the onset is beneficial; the sooner you get help, the better. But autism isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” diagnoses and different children exhibit different signs. Some of the most common ones include failure to keep or make eye contact, lack of response to smiles or facial expressions, lack of interest in toys or objects, inappropriate expressions, little or no empathy, limited or no vocabulary, no response to name, failure to engage in conversation, rocking or spinning of the body, an affinity for routines, fixation on certain mundane activities (such as loading the dishwasher or watching someone vacuum), and exceptional rote memory (autistic children often remember songs, numbers, and letters at prodigious levels).
How the App Works
The app to detect autism was designed to track a child’s eye movements while they’re looking at images of social settings. It scans the way the child moves his or her eyes – children without autism tend to be much more interested in the pictures than those with autism. This is because autistic children often have a difficult time understanding social context.
The app is as least intrusive as possible, something all parents appreciate. And it’s quick, something else helpful to anyone raising a toddler; it takes less than one minute to scan a child’s eye movements. But does it really work? The answer: so far, so good. Kun Woo Cho and her research advisor Dr. Wenyao Xu are optimistic about the potential.
During one study, the app had a success rate of 93.96 percent in detecting early signs of autism spectrum disorder.
The App’s Limitations
According to the New York Daily News, the team behind the app wants to stress that it’s a prototype and not yet finished. The biggest issue is determining whether or not other neurological conditions, such as attention deficit disorder or good old fashioned boredom, could misleadingly implicate autism. The researchers continue to test it for false positives (and false negatives too).
The “Other” App
In addition to the app on the horizon, there is an existing app already on the market. ASDetect helps parents detect autism in children as young as 11 months and as old as 30 months. It was developed by professor Cheryl Dissanayake and Dr. Josephine Barbaro of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.
The downside is it takes around 20 minutes to complete and it doesn’t actually scan the child. Instead, it shows parents a series of videos portraying normal and “red flag” behaviors and asks them a series of questions. The parents then receive an email informing them whether or not their child is exhibiting early signs of autism. The app claims to be seven times more effective than other tools presently available.
ASDetect, like the other app in development, continues to refine its technology. In the future, the creators hope to include other languages such as Mandarin, Spanish, Indonesian, Polish, and Japanese. They also hope to expand the app so that it’s useful for children up to age five.
In present times, there’s an app for just about anything and now there’s one (a few, really) for detecting early signs and symptoms of autism. While a smartphone will never rival a doctor, it’s a good starting point for parents who fear their child may be dealing with autism spectrum disorder. At the very least, it offers a simple, cost-effective way for moms and dads to either get peace of mind or more information on the road ahead.