Telethon Kids (medical research institute in Australia) is trialling a new tool for earlier and easier screening of FASD and ADHD in children, using cutting-edge eye-tracking technology developed by the Kids Brain Health Network in Canada.
The eye-tracking equipment very accurately records where a child is looking on a computer screen to measure their speed and accuracy, inhibition and short-term memory while watching short video clips or performing game-like computer tasks.
It is believed that children with FASD and ADHD have differing strengths and weaknesses when performing these tasks, as well as differing preferences for features in the videos. It is these differences that are being detected to help screen for problems with a child’s brain development.
“By comparing the common scores of a typically developing brain against those of a brain with FASD or ADHD, the software is able to ‘teach itself’ to be able to identify whether a kid is typically developing, or not.
“Machine learning can also be used to find what most attracts the child’s attention when watching the short video clips – such as movement, colours, edges or brightness.”
Machine learning is already being used in a health context – one example being in the diagnosis of breast cancer from mammogram scans which is already showing promising results.
Similar studies have been carried out in Canada – where researchers were able to use this technology to distinguish between kids who had FASD, ADHD and kids who were typically developing with approximately 80% accuracy.
Dr Symons said it is hoped the new tool will aid with faster, cheaper and easier to administer screening to identify children who should get a more in depth check.
“The eye-tracking test looks for objective biological markers and could be automated, which means that it could easily become a part of routine practice when health nurses are conducting assessments in schools – reducing costs and wait times for testing, and making it more likely that kids are diagnosed earlier,” he said.
“An earlier diagnosis can lead to earlier access to therapy which is believed to result in better long-term outcomes.”
For more information on FASD, please visit the FASD Hub website, developed in conjunction with the Centre for Research Excellence at the Telethon Kids Institute.