Autism rates continue to rise, as 1/54 children receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), up from 1/68 in 2010 and 1/150 in 2000. Part of this may be due to the fact that methods of autism detection have improved, but there is no denying that higher rates mean more concerned parents. Couple that with the fact that autism screening is, as of yet, relatively unreliable in utero, the only option is for parents and pediatricians simply to be on the lookout for any indicators of ASD from a very young age.
While previously discovered behavioral traits, including protodeclarative pointing, gaze monitoring, and pretend play, have been very effective in advancing autism diagnosis, a new app slated for FDA review promises to further improve autism detection. Cognoa, a behavioral health platform dedicated to earlier detection, diagnosis, and care of cognitive health disorders, has created an AI-powered app for smartphones. The app gathers input from parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers through the use of targeted questionnaires, and also enables parents to upload videos of children playing or completing tasks in order to share those with their pediatrician.
In a trial of 425 children ranging in age from 1.5 to 6 years old, the app was tested against clinical standards of ASD detection based on DSM-5 criteria. The resulting diagnoses proved to be accurate across gender, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. Once the app is reviewed by the FDA, the findings will be published in a peer-review journal.
The app, which can be used remotely as well as in the doctor’s office, could mean a sweeping shift in the standards of autism care. As of now, most children suspected of ASD are referred to specialists, where diagnostics can take years. Earlier intervention can be crucial to a child’s neurodevelopment. When primary care pediatricians are able to diagnose more efficiently, they are able to take decisive action on parental concerns, accelerating the treatment process for the benefit of children and their families.
Baron-Cohen et al. British Journal of Psychiatry, 168:158-163, 1996