Could a 1 minute video, screen young kids for autism?

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A new study carried out by the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) has identified what could be a simple and inexpensive screening tool for detecting autism in young children.

Dr Karen Pierce from the University Of California San Diego School Of Medicine and her colleagues showed a group of young children a 1 minute video showing geometric patterns in the form of a computer screen saver on one side of a monitor, and a clip of children involved in social movement (yoga and dancing) on the other side.

The aim was to find out whether very young children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) focussed more on the geometric patterns or on social movement, and whether an ASD could be predicted.

The study, which has been published in the September 6th Edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry, involved 110 young children between the ages of 14 and 42 months.

Of these children, 37 had an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and 22 were classed as developmentally delayed (DD) but did not actually have an ASD. The remaining children were free from autism and had a typical development (TD).

What the researchers found was that 40 percent of the children with ASD spent more time focussing on the geometric patterns than on social movement. Almost 10 percent of the DD kids focussed on the patterns more and just less than 2 percent of the kids with a typical development.

They also found that if a child spent more than 69 percent of the time focussing on the geometric patterns, an Autistic Spectrum Disorder could be predicted 100 percent of the time.

Eye tracking equipment was used to follow the line of gaze of the children and although the children did switch their gaze from one side to the other, those with ASD showed less eye movement when looking at the patterns and showed more frequent eye movement than the other kids when looking at the images children in the social video.

A follow up of 41 of the kids which took place 8 months later showed that the way they originally viewed the videos hadn’t really changed.

The results indicate that a preference for geometric patterns over social movement and how long they gazed at the geometric patterns could offer an inexpensive and easily used screening tool for ASD.

The study concluded that “a preference for geometric patterns early in life may be a novel and easily detectable early signature of infants and toddlers at risk for autism”.

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  1. Paul Froese
    Posted October 6, 2010 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    We have to be really careful these days. There are too many “out there” ideas about autism that are keeping some kids from getting the most effective treatment help available. Not to say this isn’t valid, but we need to be cautious.

  2. Daisy
    Posted November 10, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Perhaps this study may just be another study that demonstrates that individuals with an ASD can’t take in as much of their physical environment as those without an ASD. The question is why. An individual with ASD, if tested for environmental toxins and metabolic disruptions, often show disturbances in metabolism and immune system function which in turn affect cognition, language development and the ability to learn incidentally as most children with out an ASD or related disorder typically do. All this study really does is say it takes and individual longer to respond. Well, with an overall body burden that is usually present in these individuals, who wouldn’t take a longer time to respond? If these young children are left to try and learn from the world without metabolic support, the learning is less likely to occur. It’s like trying to race a formula 1 racing car on lawn mower fuel and expecting optimum performance. You wouldn’t say, “There’s something wrong wit the car.” You would say, “We aren’t treating the car properly and not giving it the right fuel to run properly.” Give people with ASD a proper chance by seeking help with proper nutrition to help the digestive system, so that other systems in the body can perform well, including the neurological system. Treat for environmental toxins that are present.

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