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New tool created by a University of Waterloo-led study to detect autism in children

Children are examined by how they scan pictures of faces

A University of Waterloo-led study has come up with a technique aimed at efficiently and easily detecting autism in children. 

"Our method uses infrared to look at the way children recognize a face or scan a face, it takes a very short time, it takes about three to five minutes, so it's much easier for the kids," said Anita Layton, professor of Applied Mathematics, Pharmacy and Biology at the University of Waterloo. 

Layton says the study was conducted with 40 children, some neurotypical and some with autism spectrum disorder. 

"We flash different faces, I think about 44 of them in front of the kids face. They will look at it for about three to five seconds, a very short time."

She says the eye-tracking system logs how the child scans the face and how much time is spent looking at each feature.

Psychologists currently use a questionnaire or evaluation when assessing autism spectrum disorder, but Layton says their method is quicker and the child is more likely to complete it. 

"We really want to develop a better for diagnosing autism because the younger a child get the right diagnosis the better it is for the kid. They can be sent to the right track, they can be given the appropriate resources."

Layton said the new technique could be used as a screening tool to help identify autism in children in advance of a formal diagnosis. 


Cali Doran

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