For children, it might seem like watching television, but for a group of researchers, an eye-tracking device could be a new tool in autism detection.
The device uses cameras to focus on a child’s eyes to see response to videos and images they’re watching.
Peter Lewis, a research technology program manager at the Marcus Autism Center said research has shown there are “pretty significant differences in the way that children with Autism or other developmental disabilities pay attention to their world.”
“If we get these kids early enough, we can really change their life course and avoid some of the most devastating forms of the condition that we see,” he said.
Early detection is the goal of this device, but first, the plan is to hold a clinical trial at the Forsyth campus of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Childrens’ Community Outreach Manager Beth Buursema said the equipment and clinical trial will cost about $250,000. While they’ve raised about $100,000 so far, there’s a long way to go.
Buursema said she hopes to be even closer following an event slated for Monday night at Tam’s Backstage in Cumming.
The buffet dinner will both celebrate the restaurant’s eighth anniversary and help raise donations for the trial.
Buursema said the $25 donation for the meal will go toward giving Forsyth the opportunity “to be at the forefront with this technology to make a difference in the lives of so many of these children and their families.”
Lewis said the trial should begin by the end of the year, and could last more than a year. Researchers will reach out to pediatricians, schools, daycares and other outlets to get volunteer patients. Once the trial is set up, children will be analyzed using the eye-tracking device, which essentially is a portable, self-contained seat facing a monitor.
The device will be used strictly to collect data, Lewis said. Patients will not receive findings or a diagnosis from the results of the test. However during the trial, those children will also see a trained doctor using the current gold standard method of diagnosing Autism.
Only about 1 percent of children diagnosed with Autism have gotten the gold standard of care, he said.
“It takes a lot of time, it’s expensive and it also relies on a very rare type of person who’s seen this condition many times,” he said.
If this trial is successful and is approved by the FDA, Lewis said it will “bring about an even field for every single child and have something that is quantitative and definitive and doesn’t rely on trained experts.”
“We’re not here to replace those experts. They’re still very much needed because every single child is going to need an individualized plan,” he said. “The goal is to get the right kids to those people as quickly as possible to identify them and start getting them involved in a treatment plan.
The average diagnosis age right now is just shy of six years old. Lewis said that’s “past the window of opportunity we see when treatment is most effective.”
Early diagnosis is key, Buursema said.
“The difference it makes in the lives of these children and adults when things are caught early ... there are kids who are functioning in regular classrooms and doing well,” she said. “So from the school system standpoint, across the board, what we can do for these kids will make a huge difference.”