A Clinical Use for Google Glass: Diagnosing Autism?

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Article first published as A Clinical Use for Google Glass: Diagnosing Autism? on Technorati.

Boy with autism in a sun hat, sun glasses, and using an iPod Touch.Not long ago I posted an article questioning the usefulness of Google Glass for those with autism. Using it as intended, those with autism (and other disabilities) would have difficulty interacting with the device.

But then I read an article outlining research that uses eye-tracking technology to diagnose autism. It appears that children with autism move their gaze more slowly, and therefore even with babies as young as 7 months old, an autism diagnosis can be made by tracking eye movements.

Of course, this is all well and good, but technology currently used to measure eye movement can be expensive, cumbersome, and not very mobile. Enter Google Glass. Eye tracking is built into the device, though it is only looking for specific movements. Should the device be significantly open enough to allow access to the eye tracking technology, it's possible some enterprising software developer could turn Google Glass into an eye-tracking diagnosis tool for any doctor, specialist, or parent.

Eye tracking studies are not new in autism research. Zillah Boraston and Sara-Jayne Blakemore published a paper in the Journal of Physiology outlining the application of eye-tracking technology in the study of autism (6 Jun 2007, Vol. 581, Issue 3, pages 893-898). In the past autism research and eye tracking has targeted focus points, finding that those with autism tend avoid the eye region of the face (therefore lack of eye contact). The same research has been applied to mirroring emotions in others (Dapretto et al, Understanding emotions in others: mirror neuron dysfunction in children with autism spectrum disorders, Nature Neuroscience 9, p.28-30, 2005). But to date this is the first case of tracking the speed of eye movements and it's relationship to autism that I've read.

So, perhaps there is a use for Google Glass in the world of autism after all, if only a use for clinicians and not directly for those with autism. It would be fascinating to see how this research progresses, and if Google Glass becomes a very useful tool in identifying those children who will need autism support services.