Digital tools could speed up autism diagnosis, study reveals

Digital tools and assessments could help speed up the diagnosis of autism in young children, it has been revealed.

Known as telehealth, the use of online tests has long been popular among families but the effectiveness of such techniques has not been verified.

But new research, published by Swansea University Medical School, is among the first to promote the use of online autism diagnosis tools alongside existing methods.

An autism diagnosis can take months, if not years, after families first approach professionals about their child’s suspected disorder. This is primarily due to a shortage of expertise, long wait times between physical appointments and significant travel to specialist services, potentially resulting in late treatment and delayed development.

However, telehealth, such as videoconferencing and store-and-forward (where a child’s behaviour is filmed and uploaded), could be used to speed up and support existing ASD diagnostic protocols, said the researchers.

The study found that the method is both socially and professionally accepted, has good diagnostic accuracy, and could enable families from a wider area to access professionals.

The research also revealed that telehealth could reduce costs for accessing care, enable the natural behaviours in the home setting to be observed, and may enable both parents in divorced families to contribute to the diagnostic process.

Commenting on the report, author Sinead Brophy said: “Telehealth can potentially improve the efficiency of the diagnosis process for ASD.

“The evidence reviewed in our study shows that it can reduce delays and improve outcomes, when used in conjunction with existing methods. It could be of particular benefit to those with clear autism traits and adults with ASD.”

She added: “Telehealth methods allow for collaboration and the sharing of experiences between the family, education and ASD experts. They can be just as good as face-to-face methods in terms of satisfaction for the patient, family and clinician.”

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

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