QBRI Making Strides in Study of Autism Spectrum Disorder

HBKU's QBRI Unveils Promising Arabic Stimuli: A Step Forward in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Diagnosis

27 Feb 2024

Unleashing research potential to extend ASD diagnostic tools beyond Qatar to the broader Arabic-speaking world

Eye tracking

A recent study by Hamad Bin Khalifa University's (HBKU) Qatar Biomedical Research Institute has made strides in the exploration of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), emphasizing the development of Arabic stimuli. This study, which places a spotlight on social attention as a key developmental parameter, introduces an  Arabic version of the Autism Risk Index (ARI). This tool holds promise for the early screening and diagnosis of ASD, not only for Qatar but also for broader applications across the Arabic-speaking world.

The study aimed to develop and validate an Arabic version of the "autism risk index" (ARI), utilizing eye gaze tracking to evaluate ASD. The researchers translated and created the eye-tracking stimuli tests of the ARI into Arabic and administered them to a sample comprising 144 children with ASD , and 96 controls, which included 84 non-autistic children, and 12 children with developmental delays. The ARI demonstrated reliability and effectively differentiated children with ASD from the control groups, showcasing cross-cultural validity. Additionally, it exhibited a robust correlation with parent-reported ASD symptoms. 

Dr. Fouad Alshaban and his team at QBRI's Neurological Disorders Research Center focused on building upon previous studies at Cleveland Clinic USA, adapting the methodology to create a set of stimuli in Arabic, aiming to elicit a response similar to the one observed in the original studies. The team successfully created an Arabic ARI, demonstrating the potential for cross-cultural consistency in social attention processes. The ARI aggregates gaze metrics to form an autism risk index, showcasing promise in identifying ASD across diverse populations.

While the study provides support for the validity of ARI in the context of Qatar, the researchers emphasize the need for further cross-cultural validation studies to determine the tool's applicability in diverse cultural contexts. If successfully implemented, the ARI could enhance ASD screening tools and improve access to accurate diagnoses for individuals from various backgrounds.

The research team highlights the importance of testing the ARI in clinical settings, comparing its accuracy to established tools like the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2nd edition (ADOS-2), and examining its feasibility in clinical practice. Guidelines for properly utilizing and interpreting the ARI in clinical settings are also essential for its successful implementation.

Commenting on the study, Dr. Fouad Alshaban, Principal Investigator, QBRI, said: "Our study highlights ARI's promise in identifying individuals with ASD across cultures. We were successful in validating our Arabic stimuli tool for diverse contexts and focusing on clinical testing, benchmarking, and guideline formulation. Future research aims to expand on these efforts for more effective ASD diagnostic methodologies "

Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) is a leading research institute under Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). The institute addresses the Qatar National Health priorities outlined in the Qatar National Research Strategy through its dedicated research centers – the Cancer Research Center (CRC), Diabetes Research Center (DRC), and Neurological Disorders Research Center (NDRC). For more information, please visit: https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/qbri