Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Eye Tracking

with 4 comments

Yesterday was the second portion of Cubby’s 24 months data point in the sibling study.  We’ve been involved since Cubby was 10 months old.  Each time he is subjected to several hours of testing, and it is intense for both of us, but definitely for a good cause.  The work by the team at Kennedy Krieger is making huge strides in early detection of autism spectrum disorders.  Though exhausting to go through, it is exciting to be part of such worthwhile research that will ultimately benefit countless families.  There are many different developmental assessments.  Some of them are widely in use, such as the ADOS or Peabody tests, but others are still experimental.

This time Cubby took part in a fascinating new study assessing eye tracking in infants and toddlers at risk for autism.  He sat on a chair with me, with special cameras trained on his eyes which followed every movement as he watched a monitor.  To get him comfortable, we initially watched puppets and animals, then the testing began.  We were shown images of geometric shapes with slowly moving patterns, interspersed with clips of faces.  In addition, extra targets popped up to see how well the eyes would saccade between the images.  In between there was a video clip of a baby putting blocks in a container.

Cubby was very opinionated about what he saw, and felt the need to comment on everything.  I don’t know where he gets that from!  He was much more interested in the toys on the foreground of the video clip of the baby- trains and trucks.  When that part was over he demanded to see more!  He also was a bit creeped out by some of the faces he was shown.  He repeatedly announced that he didn’t like one man’s face in particular.  Oh yes, he was very vocal about that.

After the testing was complete, the research assistant came around to explain the results to us.  (Just initial findings, like all the testing it is reviewed and scrutinized at length).  Only at that point did I realize that the man’s face which Cubby found so objectionable bore a striking resemblance to that of the one conducting the experiment!  Oh dear.

I was shown the targets of Cubby’s eye gazes throughout the testing, so I could see which images he looked at the most.  He showed a strong preference for faces over the patterned shapes, and particularly the eyes and mouth areas.  A very positive result.  And of course, he had a strong preference for looking at the trains and trucks, which hardly surprises me at all (special interests!).  In spite of that, this particular experiment gives me no real concern.  So far Cubby has excellent eye contact, even with strangers.

Though it isn’t possible, I’d love to have seen what the results would have been for Pudding.  She is very interested in faces, choosing to draw them over and over, and look at photos on her iPad or in albums.  I wonder how well she’d have been able to shift from one image to another. This test may be able to find eye tracking difficulties in young infants.  The question now is if it is consistently reliable in detecting an issue in children who are subsequently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.  This is where the siblings come in.    The study we are involved in recruits children under the age of 18 months, but there are others looking for pregnant women who already have a child with autism.  The earlier the detection, the earlier the intervention.

Ultimately, this could be an excellent non-invasive screening tool for the general population.  The difficulty with many current assessments is that there is a considerable amount of researcher bias.  Some children may be found to meet the criteria with one diagnostician, but not with another.  A screening tool that would measure in a more objective way would be incredibly useful.  I could see such apparatus in a pediatrician’s office, being used to screen every infant who comes into the clinic, deciding which ones require further assessment.

They just might want to find different faces for the more…selective participants.

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

April 8, 2011 at 7:01 am

4 Responses

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  1. I saw something on TV not too long ago about this amazing testing. It was taking place at CHOP – Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. I hope one day it will be used as a standard tool, not only for those predisposed to the diagnosis, but to everyone…. as you say, early diagnosis means early intervention!! I think it’s so great that your family is taking part in it!! This type of research is so valuable to everybody. So glad he did great!!

    joeysmommy

    April 8, 2011 at 8:23 am

    • I think there are a few sites that are studying the technology, they need to find out how reliable it is first. I’m excited by it though, it is truly painless and non-threatening, objective and quantifiable. Good science!

      Spectrummy Mummy

      April 8, 2011 at 8:41 am

  2. I saw something on this too—fascinating! It would be incredible to have an early diagnostic tool that could be used without the bias. Right now, so much is dependent on clinicians and very little on hard data and so many kiddo’s are missed simply because there is no standard tool. They have the assessments but they are subjective. Sigh.

    Thank you so much for taking part in this study. I know it must be hard to schlep the kiddo’s out to do this (I have a hard enough time taking all 3 to the market) and the fact you’re doing this for others means the world to me.

    Many thanks–L

    Lizbeth

    April 9, 2011 at 8:18 pm

  3. This sounds an amazing assessment and I hope something more comes of it as it sounds like it could be so influential in the testing process. xx

    Kerry

    April 10, 2011 at 12:05 pm


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