Autism spectrum disorders have been in the news more and more of late, likely because estimates of the numbers of people affected continue to rise, while the cause behind it remains elusive. Making matters worse is the fact that traditionally the process for making a diagnosis takes hours and can only be done by a trained clinician. Now however, that all appears about to change as a group of researchers from Harvard Medical School have devised a way for parents to test their children using a web based application that takes just several minutes. The team, headed by Dennis Wall, associate professor of pathology at the university, has published the process that led to the development of the web diagnosis tool in the journal Nature Translational Psychiatry.
Up to this point, specially trained clinicians have relied on, according to the team, a test called the Autism Diagnostic Interview, aka the ADI-R which is basically an 83 question interview sheet. The purpose is to discern if a child exhibits one or more behaviors that are consistent with autism. The behaviors that appear to match are then looked at further by the clinician to ascertain if they are due to other causes, and if not, a diagnosis is made. Historically, parents have had to wait for long periods of time to get their children properly tested and diagnosed due to the shortage of qualified clinicians.
To help get around this problem, the team first studied the ADI to see if all of the interview questions were truly necessary to determine if a child had autism, and surprisingly, found that many of the questions were redundant, misplaced or simply unnecessary, which helped to pare down the list to just seven that were actually needed. They then validated their results though the administration of just the seven questions with 1600 young people that had already been diagnosed.
The team next discovered that most parents intuitively already knew if their kids were autistic, especially if the symptoms were extreme and thus really only needed verification of what they felt to be true. To help them come to that conclusion, after administering the seven questions, the parents were also shown a video that demonstrated the symptoms in already diagnosed children, which generally served to remove any doubt most parents had regarding their own children.
The team has made the survey and the video available online along with other pertinent information for any parent that wishes to have their child diagnosed in a manner the team says, has shown itself to be 100% as accurate as prior methods using clinicians.