IU Ph.D. student Di Wu directs a volunteer as she touches images on a screen using a device designed to track miniscule fluctuation in the arm’s movement. IU-led research suggest physical movement is an accurate method to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

A new study led by researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University provides the strongest evidence yet that nearly imperceptible changes in how people move can be used to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.

The study’s results, reported Jan. 12 in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, suggest a more accurate method to diagnose autism. Current assessments depend on highly subjective criteria, such as a lack of eye movement or repetitive actions. There is no existing medical test for autism, such as a blood test or genetic screening.

“We’ve found that every person has their own unique ‘movement DNA,'” said senior author Jorge V. José, the James H. Rudy Distinguished Professor of Physics in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics. “The use of movement as a ‘biomarker’ for autism could represent an important leap forward in detection and treatment of the disorder.”

It’s estimated that 1 percent of the world’s population, including 3.5 million children and adults in the United States, are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, which is the country’s fastest-growing developmental disability.

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