'Smart glasses' could diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder earlier than ever before

What do you get when you mix artificial intelligence with therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder? Rush University Medical Center is trying to find out.

It’s hoping new technology will not only make therapy better, but also allow them to diagnose children with the disorder earlier than ever before.

5-year-old Christian is undergoing a typical play therapy session at Rush University AARTS Center. But what's not so typical is he's being monitored with two and three dimensional video cameras while the clinician wears special "smart glasses" to track his every move.

"We are hoping to use it to monitor how well a child is doing in the treatments we are doing,” said Latha Soorya.

This technology alllows the clinician to focus on subtle skills such as eye gaze, language and gestures so they can study the patients.

Children like Christian who have autism often have a hard time making eye contact, as well as recognizing emotions and social cues when interacting with others. But it can be hard for therapists to monitor every reaction. That’s where this new eye tracking technology comes in, two cameras, the smart glasses and a real time video feed all recorded for analysis.

“We don't have a good way as clinicians to figure out how to measure something like eye contact. In really young kids that's important skill so wearing these glasses creates an automatic data collection process,” said Allison Wainer.

So for health care professionals like Wainer, this allows her to do her job with some "extra eyes." The hope is this technology will eventually be able to diagnose autism  early and that one day parents, and schools, can have the technology in house, saving them a trip to a clinic -- especially important for families who don't have easy access.

Shikenda Washington is Christian's mother. He was diagnosed with autism at 15 months.

"Starting to use that to diagnose it and monitoring that progress would be so much great for his future and the future of other kids,” Washington said.

Right now this new technology is considered a teaching tool, but health care professionals believe it can eventually be used to come up with better methods of universal treatments.

This new technology is just part of a few studies on autism going on at Rush, here is the contact information for people interested in the study: phone 312-942-0819 or aartscenter@rush.edu

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