AI to Help Detect Autism in Children Faster
June 7, 2021
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by Snigdh Baunthiyal

Advancement in autism detection with AI

An AI-based app that says it can diagnose autism in children at an early age has been given the green light by the FDA. The pediatric behavioural health company has come up with a first-of-its-kind AI-based autism diagnosis aid – Canvas Dx.

Canvas Dx references thousands of data points. It simultaneously assesses hundreds of reported characteristics to predict a diagnosis for autism. The other reason this is an exciting development is that the AI algorithm has been fed on data from a wide range of demographics and has been ‘consciously built to embrace gender, racial, ethnic and socio-economic origins to facilitate a more efficient, equitable pathway to care for children at risk for developmental delay and their families.’


The app developed by Cognoa uses questionnaires and video assessments in providing assistance with assessment.

So how it works is like this:

  • Caregivers and physicians answer the questionnaire in the app. Additional information which might be required is given as well.
  • A video of the child’s social interaction, doing different tasks is also submitted.

The diagnosis can be made either in the doctor’s office or remotely. The test is for children aged between 18 months and five years. Cognoa completed a clinical trial in 2020. 425 children between the ages of 1 1/2 and 6, were tested comparing the company’s diagnostic program to the clinical standards performed by specialists based on DSM-5 criteria. The (DSM-5) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is an ‘authoritative volume that defines and classifies mental disorders in order to improve diagnoses, treatment, and research.’

Back in 2020, Cognoa’s CEO had said,

 “The accuracy of our autism diagnostic solution is unparalleled, exceeding all pre-specified endpoints, and we are looking forward to a priority review.”

What is Autism?
According to the World Health Organisation, Autism is a

brain disorder that limits a person’s ability to communicate and relate to other people. It first appears in young children, who fall along a spectrum from mild to severe. Some people can navigate their world, some have exceptional abilities, while others struggle to speak. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) affect about one child in 59, striking nearly four times as many boys as girls.’

The WHO has also listed the usual signs of Autism as:

  • Repeated motions (rocking or spinning)
  • Avoiding eye contact or physical touch
  • Delays in learning to talk
  • Repeating words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Getting upset by minor changes

How is Autism diagnosed?
Autism can be hard to diagnose. There is no standard test yet to diagnose it. According to healthychildren.org,

A diagnosis of ASD is ultimately made based on your description of your child’s development, plus careful observations of certain behaviours by your pediatrician, autism experts, medical tests, and your child’s history.’

Early diagnosis is crucial in Autism as early intervention gives the best life-long outcomes. There is a huge gap in autism diagnosis because of a lack of research and also a lack of diversity in on-field research which is ongoing. According to the FDA, there is an average 3-year delay from the first point of concern to the final diagnosis.

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