Autism may be identified early with eye-tracking device, studies show

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A device that follows kids’ eye movements as they watch a video showing a social interaction between two children may help speed up diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, researchers say.

Data from two new studies, published simultaneously Tuesday in JAMA and JAMA Network Open, suggest that the tablet-based device can identify the disorder in children ages 16 months to 30 months as accurately as a specialist would.

The tool monitors a video viewer’s eye movements at a rate of 120 times a second. It allows specialists to determine moment by moment what social information children are taking in, with typically developing children focusing on the interaction while toddlers with autism gaze at other spots in the video. The results can be available in 30 minutes.

“Currently, autism is diagnosed by a highly trained expert over multiple hours of testing,” said the study’s lead author, Warren Jones, director of research at the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. “Unfortunately there aren’t enough of these experts.”