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University of Missouri

Focusing on Autism Spectrum Disorder

MU researchers study children’s pupils to detect autism earlier.

If eyes are metaphorical windows to the soul, then pupils are physiological windows to the brain. Coulter grant recipients Gang Yao and Judith Miles are peering in for a better look at the brains of children with autism spectrum disorder.

Miles, professor of child health‐genetics, and Yao, professor of biological engineering, have studied pupillary constriction as a biological marker of autism. They illuminate the eye and measure the pupil’s constriction amplitude (how much it shrinks) and latency (how long before it starts to constrict). Children with a longer latency and smaller constriction amplitude are more likely to have autism spectrum disorder.



Their studies were done with children, age 4 and older, who are mature enough to follow instructions. Yao is developing a remote dual camera system that tracks the pupils of infants as young as 6 months old. One camera films the face while another works within the frame to pinpoint the pupil, regardless of head movement.

He hopes the system will identify children at a younger age, before most autism symptoms are recognized, allowing for earlier treatment and the best possible outcomes.

Read about other Coulter grant recipients:
Early Detection of Lung Cancer — Li‐Qun Gu and Michael Wang
Gold Nanorods Diagnose Colon Cancer — Raghuraman Kannan and Gerald Arthur
Nano Knees — Sheila Grant and Richard White
Shedding Laser Light on the Problem — John Viator and Stephen Barnes