New tool to diagnose autism within minutes

Washington: Researchers are developing a new tool that will diagnose autism in young children within mere minutes instead of the hours that it currently takes.

Diagnosing autism is complex and subjective. Dennis Wall, associate professor of pathology and director of computational biology initiative, Harvard Medical School, is working on algorithms to detect autism rapidly and with high accuracy.

They are designed to work within a mobile architecture, combining a small set of questions and a short home video of the subject, to enable rapid online assessments, the journal Nature Translational Psychiatry reports.

This tool could reduce the time for autism diagnosis from hours to minutes and can be integrated with routine child screening practices to include more of the population at risk, according to a Harvard statement.

"We believe this approach will make it possible for more children to be accurately diagnosed during the early critical period when behavioural therapies are most effective," said Wall.

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life, characterised by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour.

Children suspected of autism typically take the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised, known as the ADI-R, a 93-question questionnaire, and/or the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, known as the ADOS exam, which measures several behaviours.

Together these test can take up to three hours and must be administered by a trained clinician. Often, there is a delay of more than a year between initial warning signs and diagnosis because of the waiting times to see a clinical professional who can administer the tests and deliver the formal diagnosis, Wall said.