StGiles ASELCC helping test new diagnostic tool

By Meg Whitfield / The Advocate

A new national research project taking place in part on the Coast is hoping eye-tracking technology could improve detection and diagnosis of autism in early childhood.

Kathryn Fordyce and Kristelle Hudry, with children Bentley Ede and Kyah Scholte. Picture courtesy: The Advocate / Simon Sturzaker

Presented by researchers from Latrobe University in Melbourne, children aged between 2-5 at St.Giles Early Learning and Therapy Centre are currently taking part in the trial of new ‘Gazefinder’ eye-tracking tool to test how effective the technology is in identifying young children as being on the spectrum.

Developmental psychology associate professor and researcher Kristelle Hudry said the gazefinder works by analysing where children are directing their attention during a two-and-a-half minute video.

“The sorts of animations shown on the screen are things that research has shown are processed differently by people with autism versus people without,” Dr Hudry said.

For example, in a clip where one side of the screen showed a swirling pattern and the other showed a woman smiling, an autistic child was more likely to focus on the abstract shape while a child without autism would likely look at the woman.

“Looking at where the kids are directing their attentions tells us about how they are processing the world,” Dr Hudry said.

The data gained through this study will be processed to gauge how accurately the gazefinder can measure whether a child has autism or not, with the hopes of it being offered as a tool for GPs and diagnosticians around Australia.

StGiles general manager Burnie Kathryn Fordyce said she was optimistic that the gazefinder would create a smoother diagnostic process for doctors and families with children with autism.

“For many families, the pathway to get a diagnosis is really complicated and stressful,” Ms Fordyce said.

“There are currently two teams that complete diagnosis in Tasmania… and both of those teams have exceptionally high waiting lists.

“That means even when we identify the child really young, families still need to wait quite a long time to get that formal assessment,” she said.

“There are also delays in many families getting access to a pediatrician.

“The earlier we can get children identified as potentially having autism, and then diagnosed, the better as then we can give them the support they need and get a better outcome.”

Meg Whitfield’s report was originally published here.