Online procedure helps to fast-track autism diagnosis

As the number of cases of autism continues to rise, clinicians and parents are looking for faster and more accurate methods to spot signs of the disorder. A new procedure that cuts diagnosis time from hours to minutes, developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School and shared publicly online, could help.

The procedure consists of a seven-question test and posting of a home video to a website, according to the researchers, who published their findings this week in the journal Translational Psychiatry. The questions are pulled from a 93-question test known as the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised, which is the current standard method for evaluating children for autism.

Administration of the longer test, as well as professional review of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule--a 29-step process used to measure behaviors in children--can take as long as three hours, according to the researchers. The video allows clinicians to shorten their evaluation to eight steps which, in conjunction with the shortened questionnaire, speeds diagnosis time by nearly 95 percent, Harvard Medical School reports.

"Current practices for the behavioral diagnosis of autism can be effective but in many cases overly prohibitive and time consuming," the study's authors write. "Given this reduction in the number of items without appreciable loss in accuracy, our findings may help to guide future efforts, chiefly including mobile health approaches, to shorten the evaluation and diagnosis process overall such that families can receive care earlier than under current diagnostic modalities."

Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, tells HealthDay News that he thinks more research is needed to determine the true effectiveness of the procedure.

"Although the accuracy and specificity of the abbreviated approach are impressive, it is likely that this abbreviated approach to testing may not be quite as accurate and discriminating when evaluating a more diverse sample than was included in the study just reported," he says.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read this Harvard Medical School post
- check out this HealthDay News article
- here's the survey and the video posting website

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