Researchers Diagnose Autism in Children Using Smartphone, Tablet Games

Autism Child with iPad
Photo from Autism Partnership

Games on tablets and smartphones may be used to track player hand movement and identify children who might have autism, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

While early diagnosis and intervention are the best chances to improve health and economic gain for people with autism, diagnosis remains complex and difficult to obtain. The instruments of these evaluations are time consuming and clinically demanding, and a diagnosis can be withheld for years because of wait-list times.

Recent Study Using Technology for Autism Diagnostics

Recently, experts have identified that motor disturbance can be a new way to create assessments of autism spectrum disorder development.

“Motor patterns related to autism can be identified by machine learning from iPad game play in children between three and six years old,” the authors determined. “This motor signature appears to be predominantly derived from differences in pressure going into the device as well as differences in gesture kinematics and form.”

Results of the Study

The researchers have expanded on those findings and reasoned that sensors in tablets and touch screen sensor technologies could capture information about children’s motor patterns.

They set about testing if they could identify autism-specific motor patterns as children engaged with an iPad mini and played 2 different games. A total of 82 children between the ages of 3 and 6 were assessed. The researchers showed that children with autism can be identified with up to 93% accuracy using the analysis of motor patterns in iPad game play.

“It is not social, emotional, or cognitive aspects of the game play that identify autism,” Dr. Jonathan Delafield-Butt, one of the researchers and a senior lecturer in child development, told BBC News. “Rather, the key difference is in the way children with autism move their hands as they touch, swipe and gesture with the iPad during the game.

In addition to being a fun way of testing for autism, these games are cheaper and faster than the traditional ways of diagnosing autism spectrum disorder.

“These data support the notion disruption to movement is core feature of autism, and demonstrate autism can be computationally assessed by fun, smart device game play,” the authors concluded.

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