Critter Corner: New iPhone App Could Transform How We Diagnose Autism

Dear Commander Bun Bun,

I heard somewhere that a new app has been developed by Apple that can be used to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using facial expressions. Since you are attuned to what’s going on with technology, have you heard anything about this and how it works?


Di Agnosis


Dear Di,

The app, Autism & Beyond, is the result of a several-year-long project led by a team of Duke doctors, researchers, and programmers. It’s one of several new apps that Apple is making available through its ResearchKit platform today.

Autism & Beyond plays 20-minute videos while using an iPhone or iPad’s built-in camera to scan viewers’ facial expressions, analyze their reactions, and then indicate if there’s a potential risk of autism. It’s intended for parents to use with their children, who see videos of lights, sounds, and storytellers.

How it works:

• When the viewer smiles, dots line the video version of his or her face.

• After the app collects enough of those visual patterns, it’s able to offer real-time and evidence-based feedback, such as whether a parent should seek out a doctor based on the child’s indicators for autism.

• The app was created to provoke the same instinctual responses that a psychologist uses to gauge in a clinic, as she tries to diagnose autistic children.

Duke researchers hope that parents will start using Autism & Beyond to build up a video library of a child’s reactions, which could help doctors prioritize the most at-risk children and bring them into the office for in-person diagnosis. However, if parents don’t want to have their child’s face and features captured on video, they can opt to just record the patterns of dots.

Although autism can be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months, the average age of diagnosis in the United States is more than 4 years old. Delayed diagnoses can stunt a child’s intellectual and social development, due to lack of early intervention therapies.

Learn more about Autism and Beyond and view it in iTunes here.

Note: This app does not provide a definitive diagnosis of ASD. If you suspect your child shows symptoms of ASD, be sure to make an appointment with a developmental pediatrician or neurologist.

Hop this is helpful,

Commander Bun Bun

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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