Home Videos Could Facilitate Earlier Autism Diagnosis

Home videos could assist in diagnosing autism, according to a study published online April 16 in PLOS ONE.

Home videos could assist in diagnosing autism, according to a study published online April 16 in PLOS ONE.

To discern whether using online videos can yield an accurate autism diagnosis, Vince Fusaro, PhD, and colleagues at Harvard University gathered 100 Youtube videos less than 10 minutes long that featured children aged 1 to 15 who were playing. Roughly half of the videos displayed children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or behavior specific to ASD, and were tagged by the original uploader with keywords like “autism,” “ASD,” “Asperger’s,” or “hand-flapping/stimming.” The remaining 55 videos featured children who did not display ASD characteristics.

The investigators presented the videos to undergraduate students trained to score the behavior of the children using a rating scale based on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. The students recorded the children’s eye contact, repetition, social sues, and usage of toys.

By using this system, the students correctly identified videos featuring children with ASD 97% of the time.

The investigators believe these findings could augment current diagnostic options, as there are presently no biomedical or physical tests. Although the optimal age for ASD diagnosis is between 2 and 3 years old, many children are diagnosed at age 4. Many parents recognize symptoms at an earlier age, but they are typically encouraged to “watch and wait.” The researchers said their results can placate parents who are told to wait to see how their child develops.

“For instance, we could use this system for clinical triage, as a way to channel traffic so that children can get the kind of attention they need as early as possible,” senior author Dennis Wall, PhD, said in a statement.

Wall also said utilizing video may provide insight on symptoms of autism to families who do not have access to formal medical attention.

“These findings give us a great deal of hope that we will be able to make diagnosis and follow-up much more widely available, not only in the US but across the globe, so that children get recognized as early as possible,” Wall said.