February 27, 2020

Autism diagnosis test can be unreliable, needs improvement, Rutgers study finds - RU Daily Targum

<p>The researchers ran this study in a digital manner by using wearable technologies, such as smartwatches, to track the scores of 52 children who came in four times and took two different versions of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule.</p>

The researchers ran this study in a digital manner by using wearable technologies, such as smartwatches, to track the scores of 52 children who came in four times and took two different versions of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule.


A recent Rutgers University study has found that a test most often used to diagnose children with autism is not as reliable as once thought, according to an article on Rutgers Today.

Richa Rai, a graduate student majoring in psychology, co-authored the study, along with Rutgers alumnus Sejal Mistry and Brenda Gupta from Montclair State University.

The study, published in the journal “Neural Computation,” looks at the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). This standardized test analyzes communication skills, social interaction and play for children who may have autism or other developmental disorders.

The researchers of this study ran this test in a digital manner by using wearable technology, according to the article. They attached this technology to two clinicians and 52 children who had come in four times and took two separate versions of the ADOS.

The researchers looked at the entire group’s scores and found that they did not have a normal distribution, according to the article. That means there could be false positives that may be inflating the diagnosis of autism, among other things.

The results showed that changing clinicians could change a child’s score on the ADOS and influence how they are diagnosed, according to the article.

Elizabeth Torres, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and director of the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence, said that these results were similar to those found in open access data of 1,324 people ages 5 to 65, according to the article.

“The ADOS test informs and steers much of the science of autism, and it has done great work thus far,” Torres said, according to the article. “However, social interactions are much too complex and fast to be captured by the naked eye, particularly when the grader is biased to look for specific signs and to expect specific behaviors.”

As a result, the researchers have suggested that clinical observations should be combined with data from wearable biosensors, such as smartwatches, according to the article. They said this may lower the rate of false positives and make diagnoses more reliable.

Autism researchers should use tests that consider the accelerated rate of change of neurodevelopment, Torres said, according to the article. This will allow for the development of treatments that will help slow down the aging process of the nervous system.

“Autism affects 1 out of 34 children in New Jersey,” she said, according to the article. “Reliance on observational tests that do not tackle the neurological conditions of the children from an early age could be dangerous. Clinical tests score a child based on expected aspects of behaviors. These data are useful, but subtle, spontaneous aspects of natural behaviors, which are more variable and less predictable, remain hidden. These hidden aspects of behavior may hold important keys for personalized treatments, like protecting nerve cells against damage, or impairment, which could delay or altogether stop progression.”


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