CHOP researchers develop new method to measure movement behavior in children with autism
Newswise — Philadelphia, January 27, 2022 — Motor imitation, or the ability to copy the physical behavior of others, is an essential part of cognitive and social development from early childhood. However, studies have shown that motor imitation may differ in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and therefore reliable measures of this important skill could help offer earlier diagnosis and more targeted intervention.
Now, researchers from Autism Research Center (CAR) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have developed a new method for measuring motor imitation, adding to a growing set of computational behavior analysis tools that can detect and characterize motor differences in children with autism. A study describing the method was recently presented at the International Conference on Multimodal Interaction.
Researchers have been interested in motor imitation as a way to study autism for decades. Imitation is important in early development, and differences in imitation may be fundamental to how social differences in people with autism present themselves. However, creating both granular and scalable imitation measures has proven challenging. In the past, researchers have relied on measures of parents’ reports of certain imitation milestones, but these are not necessarily precise enough to measure individual differences or changes over time. Others have used behavioral coding schemes or specialized tasks and equipment to capture imitation skills, which are resource-intensive and not necessarily accessible to most of the population.
“Often, the focus is on pinpointing the end state of an imitated action, without considering all of the steps needed to get to that point,” said Casey Zampella, PhD, CAR scientist and first author of the study. “Actions can be said to be accurate based on where the child ends up, but that’s ignoring the process by which the child got there. The course of an action is sometimes more important in characterizing motor differences than the way in which it ends. But capturing this deployment requires a fine and multidimensional approach.
To address this issue, CAR scientists developed a new, largely automated computational method to assess motor imitation. Participants are asked to imitate a sequence of movements over time with a video. The method tracks body movements in all limb joints throughout the imitation task with a 2D and 3D camera. The method also uses a novel approach that captures whether the participant has motor coordination difficulties in their own body that might influence their ability to coordinate movement with others. Performance is measured through repeated tasks.
Using this method, researchers were able to distinguish autistic participants from typically developing youth with 82% accuracy. The researchers also demonstrated that the differences were driven not only by interpersonal coordination with the video, but also by intrapersonal coordination. Both 2D and 3D tracking software had the same level of accuracy, meaning kids may be able to do the tests at home without using special equipment.
“Tests like these not only help us learn more about the differences between people with autism, but they can also help us measure outcomes, such as the effectiveness of treatment or changes in their lives,” said declared Birkan Tunc, PhD, computer scientist at the CAR and lead author of the study. “When this test is added to many other computational behavior analysis tests in development, we are approaching a point where we can measure most behavioral cues that a clinician observes.”
This study was supported by the Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) under grants R01MH118327 and R01MH122599.
Zampella et al, “Computational measurement of motor imitation and imitative learning differences in autism spectrum disorders.” ICMI ’21 Companion: Companion publication of the 2021 International Conference on Multimodal Interaction October 2021. Online December 17, 2021. DOI: 10.1145/3461615.3485426.
About Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals, and pioneering major research initiatives, Children’s Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children. of the whole world. Its pediatric research program is one of the largest in the country. Additionally, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have earned the 564-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit http://www.chop.edu