The term autism spectrum disorder ASD is an umbrella term for a wide range of conditions. These conditions are characterized by difficulty in social situations and both verbal and nonverbal communication. Autistic individuals may also engage in any number of repetitive behaviors, like hand flapping.
The many subtypes of autism are thought to be influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, persons with autism may range from highly adept to severely challenged in how they learn, think, and solve problems. Some individuals with autism require support to carry out their daily activities, support they will need for a lifetime. In other cases, autistic persons may live entirely independently.
Sensory sensitivities and medical concerns often accompany ASD. These may include sleep disorders, gastrointestinal issues, and mental health challenges.
The disorder may be apparent by two or three years of age but may be diagnosed as early as 18 months.
Currently, diagnosing autism in children requires an evaluation from a psychologist. This method of testing can be a stressful event for children. New testing that simply tracks the gaze of children may provide an easier to administer and stress-free solution.
To develop the test, researchers worked with a group of 40 children between the ages of four and five years. Seventeen of the children had autism, with the remainder being neurotypical. Researchers then showed the children photographs of different faces on a screen that was connected to an eye-tracking system.
In observing the children, researchers found seven key areas of the face on which they tend to fixate. They also found that autistic children spent much more time focusing on the mouth and less time focusing on the eyes. There was also a difference between how long an autistic child would focus on a specific area of the face before switching to focus on another area.
This research opens the door for less stressful autism testing for patients of any age. Such testing is essential because early interventions have proven helpful in the development of children with ASD and can positively impact their quality of life.
The above video, from Medscape, goes into depth about ASD, including info on how it is diagnosed today.