Offering Individualized

Educational Programs For K-12 Students

Can Autism be Diagnosed by an iPhone App?

As we’ve investigated extensively over the past year, researchers and scientists are constantly developing new and more efficient ways to test to see if an individual has autism. However, the work of a team of researchers from Duke Medical Center could totally transform the accessibility of a diagnosis and the process by which a diagnosis is reached.

Recently, Ricky Bloomfield, a pediatrician, and his team previewed the app, called Autism & Beyond, which is the end product of a years-long project led by a team of doctors at Duke that comprises doctors, researchers, and programmers.

Simply put, Autism & Beyond is sort of like an elaborate and interactive selfie in which the app plays 20 minute videos while using the built-in camera on iPhones and iPads, which in turn scans the user’s facial expressions to gauge their micro reactions and assess if a potential risk for autism exists. The ideal user base is parents who can use the app with their children, who in turn see lights, sounds, and storytellers.

As the above image illustrates, the app collects a wide number of visual patterns and as it does, it can provide real-time and evidence-based feedback about whether a parent should seek out a doctor due to the child’s indicators for autism. When a subject smiles, the video version of one’s face turns green, while when one frowns, the video rendering turns red.

Part of the reason the app was created was to provoke the same instinctual responses that a psychologist will seek to measure in clinical tests when trying to diagnose autism in children. And the Duke team hopes that by many parents downloading and using the app, Autism & Beyond can then build up a video library of a child’s reactions, which could also help provide greater insight into the diagnoses. For example, the samples could indicate a certain facial trend hitherto unknown and thus the diagnostic vocabulary of researchers can be, theoretically, infinitely expanded. Even more importantly, it could help researchers and doctors to prioritize the most at-risk children and have them brought into an office for an in-person diagnosis.

Guillermo Sapiro, an engineering professor working on the app, says “Our goal is to develop a screening, like hearing or eyesight at schools. They don’t get glasses; they get a referral.”

One question the existence of the Autism & Beyond app raises is whether it will increase, or add to the number of diagnoses that has been on the rise for the past decade as doctors have developed more tools to better and more quickly diagnose autism. And in the current climate with diagnoses booming, parents now can have to wait up to a year for an appointment with a doctor to be tested. Thus, the Autism & Beyond app could actually serve as a crucial in-between solution to offset our country’s crowded waiting rooms.

Finally, the Autism & Beyond app also has the power to diagnose autism in children at increasingly younger ages, something that can give one a significant leg-up in their treatment. So while we’re still some ways away from the public release of Autism & Beyond, the app certainly gives us much to get excited about.