Collaborative Success Stories: Shining a Light
University of Missouri researchers are using light to screen for autism in very young children.
Autism has no cure, but outcomes can be greatly improved by early intervention. Most children are diagnosed through behavioral observation, generally at age 4 or older. Now, MU researchers Gary Yao and Judith Miles have developed a device that could screen younger children for autism.
The device measures how the pupil responds to light. In children with neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, the pupil responds differently than in typically developing children. The team spent years creating the device; then, knowing the age of their target audience, refined it to collect high-resolution images of the pupil without the subject needing to remain still. A high-resolution image is produced while children sit freely on their parents’ laps.
The screening process has been successfully tested on children as young as 2 years old, and Yao and Miles are working to test infants as well. They hope to get the device into the offices of pediatricians who can incorporate it into regular well-child checkups and eventually to incorporate Pupillary Light Reflex testing into newborn screening.
Dr. Gary Yao is a professor in the Department of Bioengineering, a joint unit in the Colleges of Engineering and Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Dr. Judith Miles is professor emerita of child health in the School of Medicine.
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One Health/One Medicine