by Michelle Diament
New research suggests that iPad games may offer more than entertainment for kids, potentially serving as a tool to help spot those who are on the autism spectrum. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Tracking children’s movement patterns while they play iPad games may be enough to identify which kids have autism, researchers say.
Youngsters on the spectrum display measurably different movements when using tablets or smartphones, according to newfindings published in the journal Scientific Reports. By analyzing the motor patterns of those with autism compared to typically-developing controls, researchers were able to distinguish the two groups with 93 percent accuracy.
“This is potentially a major breakthrough for early identification of autism, because no stressful and expensive tests by clinicians are needed,” said Jonathan Delafield-Butt of Scottland’s University of Strathclyde who worked on the study. He called the assessment a “cheaper, faster, fun way of testing for autism.”
For the study, kids ages 3 to 6 were asked to play games on touchscreen tablets embedded with movement sensors. Researchers analyzed data gathered from 37 children with autism and 45 typically-developing kids who participated.
They found that those with the developmental disorder used greater force and distributed force differently than the other children in the study.
“The key difference is in the way children with autism move their hands as they touch, swipe and gesture with the iPad during the game,” said Delafield-Butt who worked on the study with researchers at a company that’s looking to create mobile technology for developmental assessments.
While promising, the researchers say that more study is needed to validate their results and better understand the limitations of game-play as an identifier of autism.