hands holding a cacmcorder Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can be identified using home videos, claims new research from Stanford University School of Medicine. For children, ASD are diagnosed through observation. Watching videos of children who might be on the spectrum may offer a way for people to access specialists or care that they might not otherwise be able to get.

The researchers used 100 YouTube videos for the study. Each video featured children, aged one to 15, at play and lasted ten minutes or less. Approximately half of the videos were tagged by their creators with “autism,” “ASD,” “Asperger’s,” or “hand flapping/stimming.” The researchers classified these videos as showing children with ASD. The other half of the videos did not have any autism-related tags and were classified as not depicting autism.

Undergraduate students participated in the study. They rated the behavior they observed in the videos using a scale based on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule—one of the main systems for diagnosing autism. The students based their ratings on what they saw in the videos, scoring only the characteristics that were present in the video. They looked for identifying features of ASD like a lack of eye contact or repetitive behaviors.

The students correctly classified the children as having autism or not in 97% of the videos.

The findings are promising because they may lead to improved speed and reliability in diagnosing autism. The researchers say that, although video diagnosis will not replace in-person evaluations, video diagnosis could be used to triage by helping clinicians identify people most likely to have autism.

Video diagnosis could also be used to supplement existing diagnostic procedures. Children tend to behave differently in a doctor’s office than at home. Videos of children’s at-home behavior could be useful to clinicians determining whether a child should be diagnosed.

“These findings give us a great deal of hope that we will be able to make diagnosis and follow-up much more widely available, not only in the U.S. but across the globe, so that children get recognized as early as possible,” Dennis Wall, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics in systems medicine and senior study author.

This research is published in the journal PLOS One.

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