Rethinking Healthcare

Researcher says he can diagnose autism in just minutes

Researcher says he can diagnose autism in just minutes

Posting in Healthcare

A study from Harvard reports nearly 100% success in diagnosing autism using just a short questionnaire and quick analysis of a brief home movie.

Harvard researcher Dennis P. Wall may have found an effective shortcut to an autism diagnosis, TIME.com reports. His new test serves as an abridged version the commonly used but time-consuming Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Wall describes his study in the journal Nature Translational Psychiatry. He uses 8 behavioral questions from ADOS, which a parent can answer online without having to visit a clinician. The questions cover:

  • Frequency of Vocalization Directed to Others
  • Unusual Eye Contact
  • Responsive Social Smile
  • Shared Enjoyment in Interaction
  • Showing [demonstrating to others]
  • Spontaneous Initiation of Joint Attention
  • Functional Play with Objects
  • Imagination/Creativity

Parents also submit a two to five minute home video of their child playing, which a trained analyst then scores.

Wall found that his test diagnosed autism with nearly 100% accuracy. He writes in his study article:

"Given the brevity, accuracy and quantitative nature of the [test], results from this study may prove valuable in the development of mobile tools for preliminary evaluation and clinical prioritization—in particular those focused on assessment of short home videos of children—that speed the pace of initial evaluation and broaden the reach to a significantly larger percentage of the population at risk."

Other autism researchers are less enthusiastic about the study. The ADOS's developer Catherine Lord tells Bonnie Rochman at TIME.com:

"Arguing you should do this via a five-minute video and a seven-minute questionnaire is ridiculous. Even if you do identify a child with autism, it’s not an adequate diagnosis. You still are going to have to talk to parents and interact with the child."

But while Wall acknowledges the strengths of more detailed tests, he says that in more remote regions they're just not practical. He points out that in his region of rural Massachusetts, a child may have to wait 18 months between their first autism symptoms and getting an actual diagnosis. The fact that Wall's test eliminates the need for a clinical visit could allow kids with autism to get help in a fraction of that time.

[via TIME.com and Nature Translational Psychiatry]

Photo: Falashad/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure