Existing screening tools for early detection of autism are expensive, cumbersome, time- intensive, and sometimes fall short in predictive value. In this work, we sought to apply Machine Learning (ML) to gold standard clinical data obtained across thousands of children at-risk for autism spectrum disorder to create a low-cost, quick, and easy to apply autism screening tool.
Two algorithms are trained to identify autism, one based on short, structured parent-reported questionnaires and the other on tagging key behaviors from short, semi-structured home videos of children. A combination algorithm is then used to combine the results into a single assessment of higher accuracy. To overcome the scarcity, sparsity, and imbalance of training data, we apply novel feature selection, feature engineering, and feature encoding techniques. We allow for inconclusive determination where appropriate in order to boost screening accuracy when conclusive. The performance is then validated in a controlled clinical study.
A multi-center clinical study of n = 162 children is performed to ascertain the performance of these algorithms and their combination. We demonstrate a significant accuracy improvement over standard screening tools in measurements of AUC, sensitivity, and specificity.
These findings suggest that a mobile, machine learning process is a reliable method for detection of autism outside of clinical settings. A variety of confounding factors in the clinical analysis are discussed along with the solutions engineered into the algorithms. Final results are statistically limited and will benefit from future clinical studies to extend the sample size.
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