Home » Autism » Study: Standard Test for Autism Needs Work

Study: Standard Test for Autism Needs Work

In a new review, researchers discovered that a test widely used to diagnose autism in  children is less reliable than previously assumed.

Using a novel study method, investigators from Rutgers University digitized the standardized test known as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), to improve reliability when recording observations of a child’s behavior and activity.

The test assesses communication skills, social interaction and play for children who may have autism or other developmental disorders.

Researchers digitalized the assessment tool by attaching wearable technology, like an Apple Watch, to two clinicians and 52 children who came in four times and took two different versions of the test.

When researchers looked at the scores of the entire group, they did not find a normal distribution of scores. This could mean a chance of false positives thereby suggesting more children with autism than actual.

The study appears in the journal Neural Computation.

Investigators said study results showed that switching ADOS-certified clinicians may change a child’s scores and consequently influences the diagnosis.

The researchers found similar results when they analyzed open-access data of 1,324 people ages 5 to 65, said Dr. Elizabeth Torres, an associate professor of psychology and director of The New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence.

“The ADOS test informs and steers much of the science of autism, and it has done great work thus far,” said Torres, whose expertise has brought emerging computer science technology to autism.

“However, social interactions are much too complex and fast to be captured by the naked eye, particularly when the grader is biased to look for specific signs and to expect specific behaviors.”

The researchers believe future evaluations or assessment should combine clinical observations with data obtained from wearable biosensors, such as smartwatches, smartphones and other off-the-shelf technology.

By doing so, they argue, researchers may make data collection less invasive, lower the rate of false positives by using empirically derived statistics rather than assumed models, shorten the time to diagnosis, and make diagnoses more reliable, and more objective for all clinicians.

Torres said autism researchers should aim for tests that capture the accelerated rate of change of neurodevelopment to help develop treatments that slow down the aging of the nervous system.

“Autism affects one out of 34 children in New Jersey,” she said. “Reliance on observational tests that do not tackle the neurological conditions of the child from an early age could be dangerous. Clinical tests score a child based on expected aspects of behaviors.

“These data are useful, but subtle, spontaneous aspects of natural behaviors, which are more variable and less predictable, remain hidden. These hidden aspects of behavior may hold important keys for personalized treatments, like protecting nerve cells against damage, or impairment, which could delay or altogether stop progression.”

Source: Rutgers University/EurekAlert

Study: Standard Test for Autism Needs Work

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). Study: Standard Test for Autism Needs Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 28 Jan 2020 (Originally: 28 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 28 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.