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J Med Internet Res. 2018 Apr 24;20(4):e134. doi: 10.2196/jmir.9496.

Risk Assessment for Parents Who Suspect Their Child Has Autism Spectrum Disorder: Machine Learning Approach.

Author information

1
Department of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel.
2
AJ Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, United States.
3
Microsoft Research, Herzelia, Israel.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Parents are likely to seek Web-based communities to verify their suspicions of autism spectrum disorder markers in their child. Automated tools support human decisions in many domains and could therefore potentially support concerned parents.

OBJECTIVE:

The objective of this study was to test the feasibility of assessing autism spectrum disorder risk in parental concerns from Web-based sources, using automated text analysis tools and minimal standard questioning.

METHODS:

Participants were 115 parents with concerns regarding their child's social-communication development. Children were 16- to 30-months old, and 57.4% (66/115) had a family history of autism spectrum disorder. Parents reported their concerns online, and completed an autism spectrum disorder-specific screener, the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers-Revised, with Follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F), and a broad developmental screener, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ). An algorithm predicted autism spectrum disorder risk using a combination of the parent's text and a single screening question, selected by the algorithm to enhance prediction accuracy.

RESULTS:

Screening measures identified 58% (67/115) to 88% (101/115) of children at risk for autism spectrum disorder. Children with a family history of autism spectrum disorder were 3 times more likely to show autism spectrum disorder risk on screening measures. The prediction of a child's risk on the ASQ or M-CHAT-R was significantly more accurate when predicted from text combined with an M-CHAT-R question selected (automatically) than from the text alone. The frequently automatically selected M-CHAT-R questions that predicted risk were: following a point, make-believe play, and concern about deafness.

CONCLUSIONS:

The internet can be harnessed to prescreen for autism spectrum disorder using parental concerns by administering a few standardized screening questions to augment this process.

KEYWORDS:

autistic disorder; child; early diagnosis; expression of concern; machine learning; parents; screening; technology

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