Kinect works toward degree in early autism diagnosis

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are playing around with Microsoft's Kinect sensors as part of some important work: finding ways to diagnose autism earlier.

In fact, the university was awarded two grants totaling more than $3 million from the National Science Foundation to create robotic devices and computer vision algorithms to diagnose disorders such as autism, attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

At the university's Institute of Child Development in Minneapolis, five Kinect cameras capture the play of children ages 3 to 5 in groups of about 10. The cameras keeps track of children based on their shape and the color of their clothes, New Scientist reports. The information is fed to three computers, which analyze how each child moves each limb and whether he or she is hyperactive or unnaturally still--all red flags for autism. Medical staff take it from there, if the system suggests a child might need to see a specialist.

Researchers also are using Kinect in a project with infants, according to New Scientist, tracking a child's ability to track an object with his eyes, looking for behavioral markers.

A flurry of research surrounds efforts to diagnose autism earlier. Researchers at Harvard Medical School recently published online a procedure involving a seven-question test and posting of a home video to a website.

Meanwhile, research at the California Institute of Technology, the University of North Carolina and elsewhere looks at the genetic link, Scientific American reports. It involves families in which one child has autism and another is less than 6 months old. Researchers plan to look for early markers at 6 months, 12 months and 24 months. They then will look at brain development, as well as behavioral clues.

Technology Review, meanwhile, points to two other uses of Kinect in the treatment of autism: One by the Lakeside Center for Autism in Washington state, which uses it to improve children's communication skills; and another by advocacy group Autism Speaks, in which an installation meant to demonstrate the difficulty in parenting a child with autism features a girl who refuses to look people in the eye.

To learn more:
- read the New Scientist article
- read the Scientific American article
- read the Technology Review post

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