SCOTTISH scientists are developing a revolutionary testing device to slash the time taken to diagnose autism in children.
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen believe their computer-based system will save parents months, even years, of waiting on the NHS for help.
The time taken for a diagnosis in Scotland, where between 7,500 and 8,000 children suffer from autism, varies from between six months and three years, according to support groups. However, Dr Mark Mon-Williams and colleague Dr Justin Williams believe their device could diagnose, or rule out, autism in an hour.
They have been given a 178,000 grant by Scottish Enterprise to prove their test works. It could then be marketed commercially.
Dr Williams said: "At the moment, the tests are crude and can involve anything from bouncing a ball or weaving a shoelace through a hole to test co-ordination. An assessment of motor skills by an occupational therapist can take about three hours. Our machine could probably do it in about an hour."
The machine involves taking computer-based measurements, which track children's movement and reactions to certain stimuli. About 60 patients have been involved in a trial.
Dr Williams said: "Different movement paths, especially jerky or erratic patterns, can indicate brain disorders such as ADHD and autism."
Dr Mon-Williams added: "There is a lot of criticism of testing at the moment. A lot of the tests are repetitive, involve a lot of people, and they are expensive and time-consuming.
"We believe this is a relatively low-cost solution for the health service, as it will free up clinician and occupational therapist time."
John McDonald, chair of the Scottish Society for Autism said: "There is a long way to go, but anything that can make a positive contribution to reducing the time taken for a diagnosis, and the distress caused to parents, should be supported."