Mobile App for Autism Screening Yields Useful Data

A Duke study of an iPhone app to screen young children for signs of autism has found that the app is easy to use, welcomed by caregivers and good at producing reliable scientific data. The study, described June 1 in an open access journal npj Digital Medicine, points the way to broader, easier access to screening for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

The app first administers caregiver consent forms and survey questions and then uses the phone's 'selfie' camera to collect videos of young children's reactions while they watch movies designed to elicit autism risk behaviors, such as patterns of emotion and attention, on the device's screen.

The videos of the child's reactions are sent to the study's servers, where automatic behavioral coding software tracks the movement of video landmarks on the child's face and quantifies the child's emotions and attention. For example, in response to a short movie of bubbles floating across the screen, the video coding algorithm looks for movements of the face that would indicate joy.

In this study, children whose parents rated their child as having a high number of autism symptoms showed less frequent expressions of joy in response to the bubbles.

Autism screening in young children is presently done in clinical settings, rather than the child's natural environment, and highly trained people are needed to both administer the test and analyze the results. "That's not scalable," said New York University's Helen Egger, M.D., one of the co-leaders of the study.

This study, from informed consent to data collection and preliminary analysis, was conducted with an app available for free from Apple Store and based on Apple's ResearchKit open source development platform.

In one year, there were more than 10,000 downloads of the app, and 1,756 families with children aged one to six years participated in the study. Parents completed 5,618 surveys and uploaded 4,441 videos. Usable data were collected on 88 percent of the uploaded videos, demonstrating for the first time the feasibility of this type of tool for observing and coding behavior in natural environments.

"This demonstrates the feasibility of this approach," said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development and co-leader of the study. "Many caregivers were willing to participate, the data were high quality and the video analysis algorithms produced results consistent with the scoring we produce in our autism program here at Duke."

An app-based approach can reach into underserved areas better and make it much easier to track an individual child's changes over time, said Guillermo Sapiro, Edmund T. Pratt, Jr. School Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke and a co-leader of the study.

"This technology has the potential to transform how we screen and monitor children's development," Sapiro said.

The reported project was a 12-month study. The entire test took about 20 minutes to complete, with only a few minutes involving the child.

The app also included a widely used questionnaire that screens for autism. Based on the questionnaire, participating families received some feedback from the app about what the child's apparent risk for autism might be. If parents reported a high level of autism symptoms on the questionnaire, they were encouraged to seek further consultation with their health care providers.

Helen L Egger, Geraldine Dawson, Jordan Hashemi, Kimberly LH Carpenter, Steven Espinosa, Kathleen Campbell, Samuel Brotkin, Jana Schaich-Borg, Qiang Qiu, Mariano Tepper, Jeffrey P Baker, Richard A Bloomfield Jr, Guillermo Sapiro.
Automatic emotion and attention analysis of young children at home: a ResearchKit autism feasibility study.
npj Digital Medicinevolume 1, Article number: 20 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41746-018-0024-6.

Most Popular Now

Researchers Capture First Images of Oxyg…

Oxygen in cancer tumors is known to be a major factor that helps radiation therapy be successful. Hypoxia, or starvation of oxygen, in solid tumors is also thought to be...

A New Method of Artificial Intelligence …

Despite the immense progress in the field of AI in recent years, we are still very far from human intelligence. Indeed, if current AI techniques allow to train computer agents...

PatchAi Startup has Arrived in the Marke…

PatchAi - a startup that offers, thanks to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, an empathic virtual assistant to patients participating in clinical trials - announced that it has closed two...

NHS IT Chiefs Set the Stage for a Year o…

3 - 4 March 2019, London, United Kingdom. NHS technology leaders are to kick off the second-ever Digital Health Rewired Conference and Exhibition on 3 - 4 March at the Olympia...

Digital Health App Medicus AI Earns CE C…

Medicus AI, the Vienna-based health tech company, has received a ​Class I Medical Device CE Mark for its mobile application. The CE certification mark confirms that Medicus AI conforms to...

Siemens Healthineers Presents Solutions …

CT scanners with intelligent user guidance, AI-based software assistants for MRI and a lab system that revolutionizes workflows: Siemens Healthineers is showcasing its products and solutions according to the motto...

FDA Authorizes Marketing of First Cardia…

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized marketing of software to assist medical professionals in the acquisition of cardiac ultrasound, or echocardiography, images. The software, called Caption Guidance, is...

Human Body-on-Chip Platform Enables In V…

Drug development is an extremely arduous and costly process, and failure rates in clinical trials that test new drugs for their safety and efficacy in humans remain very high. According...

Portable Lab You Plug into Your Phone ca…

Engineers with the University of Cincinnati have created a tiny portable lab that plugs into your phone, connecting it automatically to a doctor's office through a custom app UC developed...

Helping Patients with Binge Eating Disor…

Behavioral therapy assisted by a smartphone app, delivered via telemedicine by a health coach, was an effective treatment for several symptoms of binge eating disorders, according to a study conducted...

SCCE's 8th Annual ECEI - European Compli…

16 - 18 March 2019, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The European Compliance & Ethics Institute is the place to discuss compliance challenges and strategies with your peers from healthcare and across industry...