A Hong Kong scientist has recently developed a method to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to scan retinas of children as young as six to detect early autism or the risk of autism and hopes to develop a commercial product this year.
According to Benny Zee, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Konsaid, the retinal eye scanning can help to improve early detection and treatment outcomes for children.
A high-resolution camera with new computer software is used for the scanning.
The software analyses a combination of factors including fibre layers and blood vessels in the eye which identifies children at risk of autism and get them into treatment programmes sooner.
As part of a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, seventy children – 46 with autism and a control group of 24 were tested using the technology. The average age tested was 13, with the youngest being six.
The technology was able to identify the children with autism 95.7 percent of the time.
The findings have been published in EClinical Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Autism specialists welcomed his findings but said there remained a huge stigma, with parents often reluctant to believe their children have autism even when there are clear signs.
A medical test or biological marker like this will facilitate parents not going into denial for longer periods and therefore the child would get treatment more quickly.
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental disorders.
It is a developmental disorder which is characterized by difficulties of social interaction and communication.
The condition is also characterised by a restricted and repetitive behaviour.
The signs of the autism are developed gradually and are usually identified during first three years of the child.
This disorder is associated with the combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Autism is estimated to affect about 24.8 million people across the world as of 2015. As of 2017, in the developed countries, 1.5% of children are diagnosed with this disorder.
This disorder occurs more often in males than in females.
Early recognition, as well as behavioural, educational and family therapies may reduce symptoms and support development and learning.