Studying Eye Movements can Help Diagnose Autism


Follow the eyes and spot autism! Tests that track the trajectory of the eyes during conversations can detect and diagnose autism in children in near future.

eye movements for autism diagnosis

How does Eye Movements Matter?

What you talk about really matters for children with Autism. Changing just a few words while you talk to them about their feelings versus what people understand can deliver profound impacts on where their eyes go for information (READ: How do children with Autism react when talking about their emotions).

When it comes to Autism treatment, Early Intervention is the key! It is critical to spot or identify the characteristics of Autism in children early enough so that they can avail the benefits of appropriate interventions and integrate better into the society. So far, a lack of objective methods for identification of Autism symptoms stood as a major impediment to faster, earlier diagnosis.

How might this type of Diagnosis work?

Children’s eyes will wander; there’s no way you may stop it. But follow where they go and you may end up detecting more accurately if a child may fall within the autism spectrum. The Cleveland Clinic, Ohio (study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) and the University of Vermont (Burlington, Vermont; study published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders) ran two different studies albeit with more or less the same results. Both found a distinct connection between Autism Spectrum Disorder and the ways it moves the eyes around during conversations.

Researchers at Cleveland Clinic took advantage of the most recent eye-tracking technology. It helped to note the span at-risk patients spent focusing on different topics/objects. The method detected 80 percent of the subjects (between ages 3 and 8 years) are at high-risk of developing ASD.

The University of Vermont, on the other hand, recorded patients’ gazes during verbal conversations. A link was detected between emotional conversations and focus. Children with ASD tended to focus on the speaker’s mouth, not their eyes whenever emotional discussions were held. However, reinforcing an ASD-child to peer into the eyes of whom they speak with may become counterproductive.

Benefits for the Future

  • Remote eye tracking is easy to use with young children and the studies show that it has excellent potential to enhance identification. Objective by nature (like other controversial methods like genetic swab test, saliva test and blood tests), parents will more acceptingly give in to their child’s diagnosis and get him/her the necessary treatment – faster!
  • The findings are keys towards understanding how ASD-people handle emotional conversations by taking hints from common social cues that are found in the eyes and the eyebrows. This could be a strong reason why ASD-people are often clueless about the intentions of others; they miss out on the facial expressions shaped by underlying thoughts.
  • The tests are big time-savers. Like earlier, you do not need to subject your child to extensive multidisciplinary assessments to diagnose ASD, depending only on parental reports and clinical observations. Today’s primary technique is a different one.

Note, that though the future for easy and early diagnosis of autism looks bright, there is still a long way to go before techniques such as these are available to the public in clinical settings.

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