The current average age of autism diagnosis is about 4 years of age according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Until now, autism had been mainly diagnosed by speaking to parents about their child’s behavior, clinical observations and interviews with the subjects. Eye-tracking has been gaining attention as an objective method of diagnosing autism earlier than previously possible.
Eye-tracking may be defined as recording eye-movements using a specially designed camera while someone is looking at pictures on a computer screen. According to an article in the Independent Digital News, Dr. Thomas Frazier, team leader of an eye-tracking technology study at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, stated, “Remote eye tracking is easy to use with young children and our study shows that it has excellent potential to enhance identification and, because it is objective, may increase parents’ acceptance of the diagnosis, allowing their children to get treatment faster.” The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio has also used eye-tracking technology to see how long children with ASD spend looking at social and non-social features in a series of images and videos.
The Development/Autism/Research/Technology (DART) Child Development Lab, hosted within the Patrick Wild Centre at the University of Edinburgh recently completed a project developing new eye-tracking methods to assess early skills in babies aged 6-12 months. Eye-tracking is helping Dr. Sue Fletcher-Watson and her team understand learning and social behavior at this young age. They have been looking at whether eye-tracking could be a useful tool for recording progress in response to learning with technology specifically. According to Dr. Fletcher-Watson, “we hope to find out whether eye-tracking can be used as an outcome measure in intervention studies with children with autism.” Check out the Publications section for a link to Fletcher-Watson and colleagues’ recent paper.
Tiffany Hutchins, lead author of a published paper on eye-tracking technology is of the opinion that the topic of conversation really matters for children with ASD, stating, “You just change a few words by talking about what people do versus how they feel and you can have a profound impact on where eyes go for information.” Check out the Publications section for a link to access Hutchins’ recent paper.