Diagnostic techniques for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often fall short of perfect because they rely on observation of behavioral and developmental progress by a physician (Screening and Diagnosis). This subjectivity leads to a large population of undiagnosed individuals. A study was recently conducted which aims to provide an effective supplemental tool in diagnosing and tracking the progress of therapy in ASD in children by Kołakowska, Landowska, Anzulewicz, and Sobota.
Automatic Recognition of Therapy Progress Among Children with Autism studied the behavioral data of individual users while engaging in tablet games that monitored user activity through features such as touch screen sensors, accelerometer trackers, and a gyroscope that is able to record behavioral characteristics continuously. These features track the behavioral data of the user, which are incredibly accurate at predicting ASD in children at an early age, as well as track the progress of their therapy. When the study was replicated, the authors found that this technique can be used to “identify children with autism with up to 93% accuracy.” Early diagnosis is crucial for the individual’s future development. This research is important because it offers unique insights in the form of quantifiable data of behavioral characteristics of ASD, thereby eliminating some human error that may result in traditional diagnostic and progress checks alone.
Tablet games are useful for therapy progress because they focus on, “particular issues by teaching specific skills–e.g. expressing needs, learning certain behaviors, improving verbal communication, answering questions, interacting with other people in typical situations, recognizing and expressing emotions.” The detection of eye movement while engaging in a tablet game is a feature of this therapy. The software records eye movements of the individual during gaming in order to capture the individual’s behaviors. Data collected from changes or lack thereof in eye movement can help the interpretation of other factors, such as motor deficiencies, making diagnosis more precise and evidence-based The software can track motor deficiencies in individuals and record “the way a particular movement is prepared, in the velocity, acceleration, and jerks while specific types of arm movements are performed, or in different distributions of grip force over time”. The data collected can then be used as a supplemental tool by the diagnostician.
Another advantage that tablet game platforms offer to diagnostic practices is that it provides data through a stress-free platform, not typically seen in traditional settings such as a questionnaire in a clinical interview. The DSM 5 illustrates the “insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior” often seen in individuals with ASD. Tablet games utilize this tendency through computer technology, which provides a “predictable framework” in which children with ASD are often comfortable with.
A unique aspect of the tablet game approach is that it provides a wealth of raw data that eliminates some human error seen in visual analysis of behavior alone. Though further research should be done to reassure the effectiveness of these tablet programs, experts should consider working this technique into their diagnostic practices in order to add evidence to their diagnosis and assure that they are being as accurate as possible.
Kołakowska, Agata, et al. “Automatic Recognition of Therapy Progress among Children with Autism.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 24 Oct. 2017, www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-14209-y
“Neurodevelopmental Disorders.” Neurodevelopmental Disorders | Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association Publishing, 2013, dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm01#x98808.2728600