Eye tracking for identifying autism

In a research project aimed at developing an objective index to identify autism in patients, subjects were recorded with Tobii Pro eye trackers while viewing video clips. By analyzing gaze patterns, researchers developed a quantitative method to help diagnose autism.

Background and objectives

The prevalence of autism, a developmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication, has increased tenfold in the last 30 years. The diagnosis depends on correct judgments as to whether each symptom listed in the diagnostic criteria is met or not. This means an accurate diagnosis of autism calls for an expert in the field, but there are too few of these to meet the increasing needs of the population. Consequently, there is a demand for a system that can be used by non-experts with an accuracy comparable to that of someone trained in this disorder.

Gaze analysis can be used as an autism diagnosis system. In recent years, unobtrusive eye tracking systems without a chin rest or headgear have become increasingly accurate. This new technology has made eye tracking infants and young children as easy as testing adult participants.

The objective for the researchers at Osaka University was to develop a quantitative scale for identifying individuals with autism based on gaze measurement data that could be applied to adults, as well as children.

By using eye tracking, even a non-expert is able to draw ample information from non-verbal children. The method has a wide range of applications such as screening of developmental disorders in children.

Professor Shigeru Kitazawa, Department of Dynamic Brain Networks, Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences, Osaka University

Tools and methods



1. Nakano, T. et al. Atypical gaze patterns in children and adults with autism spectrum disorders dissociated from developmental changes in gaze behaviour. Proc R Soc B277, 2935-43 (2010).
2. Hosozawa, M., Tanaka, K., Shimizu, T., Nakano, T. & Kitazawa, S. How Children With Specific Language Impairment View Social Situations: An Eye Tracking Study.Pediatrics129, e1453-e1460 (2012).

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