Technological advancements and research in the field of medical science have proven to be a boon for humankind. Today, we have cures for diseases previously considered untreatable, vaccines that can prevent a range of bacterial and viral infections, and a deeper understanding of various disorders and syndromes.
Even though there is a lot that we are yet to discover about autism spectrum disorder, relentless research, and advancement in this field of study have enabled early diagnosis and much more effective interventions. Various other studies have helped experts develop better behavioral therapies aimed at helping autistic people cope with the sensory and other challenges presented by the condition.
As we near the end of 2021, we are revisiting some of the most invaluable gifts that the technocrats gave the autism community this year. Keep reading!
Mobile app for diagnosis of autism
The National Institute of Health, USA is funding the development of an app that can distinguish between neuroatypical and neurotypical children based on their eye movements. The prototype app was tested on 933 toddlers aged between 16 to 38 months who were shown videos of people smiling, conversing, or making eye contact. The gaze patterns of the children during the activity were recorded and analyzed using machine learning tools and 40 of them were diagnosed with ASD. The app – still in the prototype phase – can prove to be an important tool for autism diagnosis in infants and toddlers.
Research on the genetics behind autism
A team of experts from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working on a genetic technology that will help them deduce the causes of several diseases. Called the ‘perturbed seq,’ this technique identifies the changed expression of genes in thousands of individual cells by using gene sequencing. The scientific community is of the opinion that this tech will bring us a step closer to understanding the cause of developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders.
Virtual reality tool for improved social interactions
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, have developed a virtual reality tool to help improve the gaze pattern of autistic children. The patented tool makes use of measures like looking pattern, pupillary dilation, and blink rate to understand the requirements of the individual. The results of the preliminary tests conducted on 18 children with autism have been promising with most children showing commendable improvement in their communication ability.
Robotic interventions in education
An education program developed by a Hong Kong-based professor, Catherine So, uses role-playing robots to help autistic children improve their social skills. Called Robot for Autism Behavioral Intervention (RABI), it now forms a part of a government initiative that has been adopted by several non-profit groups and schools. It is aimed at helping children between the ages 3 and 18 in resolving issues common to their age group including conflicts and bullying. Since its development, it has benefitted over 1200 children with autism.
Meanwhile, Timothy Grifford, the founder of MOVIA Robotics, realized that a conventional schooling system struggles to provide the one-on-one attention required by the children on the autism spectrum. To help such kids, MOVIA has created specially programmed humanoid robots. Research shows that such assistive technology can help children in improving their communication skills, overcoming their sensory challenges, developing social skills, and overall improvement in their quality of life.
Virtual reality behavioral intervention tools
According to research conducted by Østfold University College, Norway, a combination of Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Interventions (NDBI) and virtual reality tools can be immensely useful for children with autism. Virtual NDBI (VNDBI) makes these interventions more accessible in central as well as remote locations while reducing unwanted variation between service sites. It can also provide the field with new knowledge on effective components enhancing the accuracy of the intervention packages.
Research shows that Autism causing genes are different in girls and boys
A study at the University of Virginia suggests that the genes and underlying genetic contributors that cause autism are different for girls and boys. The researchers also found that the brains of boys and girls with autism respond differently to similar social cues and different brain mechanisms are in action during similar social settings in girls and boys. This discovery could help create better therapeutic interventions that are more relevant to the individuals.
New compound for the treatment of autism
Indian researchers from the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research have developed a new compound that has shown tremendous promise in providing better treatment of autism. Studies suggest that the compound, named 6BIO, can restore neural function, improve memory and learning and reduce episodes of epileptic seizures. It can also help children with autism learn and recall, be social, and alleviate other symptoms such as seizures and sleep disorders.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Standard Set
Experts at the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM) launched the first-ever set of standard treatments for autistic children and adults. Autism Spectrum Disorder Standard Set (ASDSS) is aimed at providing enhanced care for autistic people from toddlerhood to adulthood. It can be easily implemented by doctors engaged in caring for autistic people, irrespective of the method of treatment being used.
Preemptive intervention and autism diagnosis
A study on infants with early behavioral signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) found that preemptive intervention therapy significantly reduces the severity of symptoms in early childhood. The randomized clinical study was aimed at determining the efficacy of a preemptive intervention for ASD beginning during the prodromal period. It was found that infants with preemptive intervention had lower odds of meeting diagnostic criteria (7%) than those who received usual care (21%) at 3 years of age.
Autistic individuals can be trained to understand social cues
A joint study conducted by researchers from India and Japan using infra-red technology and gaze-cue training suggests that individuals with autism can be trained to understand social cues. Participants were presented with images of faces with continuously shifting spatial locations while the researchers noted their eye gaze. A few trials later, their gaze fixed on the eye region of the face irrespective of the displacement of the picture, implying that autistic individuals can benefit from short-duration gaze-cue training.
The year 2021 paved the way for path-breaking scientific research that has helped us understand the elusive condition of autism spectrum disorder a lot better. We hope that the coming year also continues to give the science fraternity more reasons to celebrate!