Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Autism and Information Technology: Big Data for Diagnosis

The final installment of this month's Autism and Information Technology series, and the last part of April's blog challenge (plus Autism Awareness Month). My last three entries were focused more so on people with autism getting into the IT field for careers, including my own journey and my current job search. This time, why not reverse it.

So how can advances in information technology benefit those on the spectrum? Well, that's a long topic in itself, but a one technology had me curious to say the least. At the end of March I attended a conference called Data4Decisions. One of the sessions at this conference was on big data and analytics transforming life sciences from a patient perspective. A focal point of the presentation came from the Duke University Medical Center, where they discussed a new algorithm to diagnose autism through the toddler's behavior and other data gained on this in-hospice app. The data gained from this technology would be used to interpret if a child could truly be considered on the autism spectrum.

As we were told at the forum, the behaviors could be mapped to various questions and screening tests. Then the big data part comes into play, which is where I get curious as to how the data is used and programmed. I went through some tests as a child but not to this extent. While I don't know what programming languages are being used here, the data model at hand is another complex question.

Naturally, I wonder if this technology could be adapted to adults, so that we can understand each other in our interpersonal relationships. Many adults have been diagnosed later in life, particularly over the last decade. There is potential to tweak the algorithms and develop the app to use more verbal functions and continue to break through with big data. With the new $9.75 million grant in place for Duke's entire Information Initiative, the possibilities continue. It's how data and information technology can be used to help not only detect if a child is on the spectrum, but how to understand the child as well.

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