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Tracking-based interactive assessment of saccades, pursuits, visual field, and contrast sensitivity in children with brain injury
Visual deficits in children that result from brain injury, including cerebral/cortical visual impairment (CVI), are difficult to assess through conventional methods due to their frequent co-occurrence with cognitive and communicative disabilities. Such impairments hence often go undiagnosed or are only determined through subjective evaluations of gaze-based reactions to different forms, colors, and movements, which limits any potential for remediation. Here, we describe a novel approach to grading visual health based on eye movements and evidence from gaze-based tracking behaviors. Our approach – the “Visual Ladder” – reduces reliance on the user’s ability to attend and communicate. The Visual Ladder produces metrics that quantify spontaneous saccades and pursuits, assess visual field responsiveness, and grade spatial visual function from tracking responses to moving stimuli. We used the Ladder to assess fourteen hospitalized children aged 3 to 18 years with a diverse range of visual impairments and causes of brain injury. Four children were excluded from analysis due to incompatibility with the eye tracker (e.g., due to severe strabismus). The remaining ten children –including five non-verbal children – were tested multiple times over periods ranging from two weeks to nine months, and all produced interpretable outcomes on at least three of the five visual tasks. The results suggest that our assessment tasks are viable in non-communicative children, provided their eyes can be tracked, and hence promising tools for use in a larger clinical study. We highlight and discuss informative outcomes exhibited by each child, including directional biases in eye movements, pathological nystagmus, visual field asymmetries, and contrast sensitivity deficits. Our findings indicate that these methodologies will enable the rapid, objective classification and grading of visual impairments in children with CVI, including non-verbal children who are currently precluded from most vision assessments. This would provide a much-needed differential diagnostic and prognostic tool for CVI and other impairments of the visual system, both ocular and cerebral.