New technique helps detect autism spectrum disorder
Researchers developed a technique for analyzing children’s gazes that may help identify whether they have autism spectrum disorder, according to an analysis recently published in Computers and Biology in Medicine.
Children with ASD typically look at other individuals’ mouths and do not make eye contact, according to researchers.
“In particular, the overt attention with which individuals with ASD orient and direct to faces, as well as the manners by which they visually explore faces and interpret gaze information, appears to exhibit characteristics distinct from [typical development] individuals,” Mehrshad Sadria, a master's student in the department of applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues wrote.
The researchers evaluated 17 children with ASD (mean age, 5.5 years) and 23 neuro-typical children (mean age, 4.8 years). Each child was shown 44 photographs of faces on a computer monitor, and the researchers used an eye-tracking device to identify and interpret the locations on the pictures where the children had cast their eyes.
“Face scanning involves transitioning from one area of interest to another,” the researchers wrote.
Sadria and colleagues applied four different techniques to measure the importance of those areas of interest, and they found that the betweenness centrality technique — which measures the number of times a specific visual area of interest acted as a bridge along the shortest path to another specific visual area of interest — produced the most statistically meaningful differences between children with and without ASD.
“Our technique is not just about behavior or whether a child is focusing on the mouth or eyes,” study researcher Anita Layton, PhD, a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo, said in a press release. “It's about how a child looks at everything."
The researchers cautioned that eye gaze pattern analyses cannot replace a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation, but they can be used as “an additional screening tool.” – by Janel Miller
Disclosures : Healio Primary Care was unable to determine the authors’ relevant financial disclosures prior to publication.