Autism has been a disease difficult to identify in young children, often preventing initiation of early stage therapy that can have the most dramatic positive impact. Researchers at University of Missouri, spurred by one of the scientists on the team who has been working with autistic kids and seemed to have noticed patterns, wanted to see whether children with autism have any characteristic facial features, since many brain conditions are known to.
The team used 3D cameras to scan kids’ faces as they fidgeted in their chairs. One group of kids was known to be autistic, while the other was developing normally. Because 3D scanning allows the measurement of features along the actual surface of the face, they were able to compare parameters that are effectively impossible to get from traditional photography. They did this by creating maps out of the scans and identifying a lot of distances to be measured. Using these maps they looked for similarities and identified three subgroups of kids with autism. Interestingly, the kids within the three groups had similar type and severity of autism as the other kids in their group. Besides being able to diagnose autism at an early stage, the technology should spur other researchers to look for which genes kids within each group share, narrowing down the genetics that are responsible for different types of autism.
Here’s a University of Missouri video with the researchers showing and describing their work: