Autism Can Be Diagnosed Early By Letting Children Play Games On Tablets & Smartphones

By Samantha Finch, Parent Herald August 31, 04:10 am

Experts believe that tablets and smartphones can help diagnose autism in children. This involves allowing kids to play games on the devices while tracking the movement of their hands.

The findings came from a study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. The research was published in the journal Nature.

For the study, researchers studied 37 autistic children's hand movements while playing games on tablets and smartphones with touch-sensitive screens and embedded movement sensors. The kids are aged between three and six years old, BBC News reported.

The research highlights how technology can be used as an accessible and less invasive tool to detect autism in children. Dr. Jonathan Delafield-Butt, one of the researchers in the study, described the report's findings as a potential "major breakthrough for early identification of autism."

Other forms of detection tests conducted by physicians can be stressful and expensive for children and their families. Delafield-Butt also stressed the importance of early autism detection in children so their parents can look for various support services and therapies quickly.

The study recognized that movement is the most significant "differentiator in the gameplay data" and it's not social, emotional, or cognitive facets of the game that recognize autism symptoms. Normal and autistic children have differences when they move their hands and fingers, and those can be observed as they touch, swipe, and gesture on a tablet or smartphone while playing games.

Around one in 68 American children are in the autism spectrum, with more than three million individuals living with the developmental disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is 4.5 times more common among boys than girls.

A study conducted by a research team from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland found children diagnosed with autism before they turn four years old have higher chances of getting successful results in treatment, reported. Late autism diagnosis also pushes parents to seek alternative and complementary autism medicine (e.g. nutritional supplements and psychotropic medicines), which are not that effective as behavioral therapy.

Katharine Zuckerman, the study's lead author and a professor of pediatrics at Doernbecher Children's Hospital at OHSU, said the most effective treatment for autism is one-on-one behavioral intervention therapy. It targets central autism symptoms such as impaired social skills and unyielding behaviors. Behavioral intervention therapy can also include speech and language therapy, physical therapy, social skills training, and occupational therapy.

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