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"Autism App" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at Duke University have developed software that tracks and records infants' activity during videotaped autism screening tests.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Automated app for autism audit.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Behavioral tests that can help spot autism markers in very young children could soon be more widely available. Researchers at Duke University have developed software that tracks and records infants' activity during videotaped autism screening tests.

First, the tester shakes a toy on the infant's left side, (Sound effect: shake sound pan left) then right side, (Sound effect: shake sound pan right) measuring the time it takes for the child to shift attention. The clinician then passes the toy across the infant's field of vision to gauge any delay in visual tracking then rolls a ball to the child and waits for eye contact--a sign of the child's engagement with their play partner.

The clinician giving the tests must also be looking for various cues and counting time intervals. That requires a lot of skill and expertise.

Unlike a human, the new software is accurate to tenths of a second. Turns out it's as good as experts at spotting autism markers, and does better than non-expert clinicians. The team is now working on a tablet app that would watch and analyze responses to visual cues played on the screen. No human tester required so it can be used by any parent, teacher, or general clinician.

The earlier autism can be spotted, the more beneficial intervention can be.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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