Autisme, la preuve par l'image

Autisme, la preuve par l'image
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Publié le 15 janvier 2007
  • Reportage: Emmanuelle Jaquet
  • Montage: Charles Deregnaucourt-Fischer



A Genève, ce matin, comme chaque jour de la semaine, Marie-Antoinette Accietto se consacre à son fils et lui enseigne l'écriture, l'écoute ou l'expression verbale. Gabriel a 7 ans, mais souffre d'autisme. «Lorsqu'à deux ans il ne parlait toujours pas, j'ai commencé à m'inquiéter» raconte-elle. «Des attitudes me faisaient penser à l'autisme. Son regard, notamment, restait focalisé sur un point de détail, mais ce n'est que vers trois ans que les médecins ont posé le diagnostic définitif.»

Tout est dans le regard


Le Professeur Flavio Keller, à la tête du département de neurologie de l'Université «Campus bio-médical» de Rome, est convaincu que ces troubles de comportement peuvent être identifiés plus tôt, dès l'âge de 6 mois. Il coordonne le programme de recherche TACT (Thought in Action), financé par divers partenaires européens, dont l'Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. L'objectif : mettre au point une méthode non-intrusive de collecte d'informations relative aux mouvements et au regard de l'enfant. Dans ce cadre-là, les scientifiques développent un système, muni d'une petite caméra, de deux micros et d'une batterie, qui se fixe sur la tête des bambins. La caméra, dirigée dans le même axe que le regard de l'enfant, enregistre tout ce qu'il regarde.

Petite taille et petit poids


La Pr. Aude Billard est responsable de la partie EPFL de ce projet. Son équipe a mis au point le dispositif qui doit être léger et de petite taille. A terme, il ne devra pas peser plus de 100 grammes, afin que les bébés puissent le porter. Lorenzo Piccardi, ingénieur en micro-technique à l'EPFL, planche déjà sur un nouveau prototype plus léger et équipé d'un petit miroir orienté sur les yeux de l'enfant. Cette installation permettra d'enregistrer non seulement ce qu'il regarde, mais aussi le mouvement de ses yeux. «Les autistes tendent à regarder les personnes avec le coin de l'œil, sans leur faire face, comme si ils craignaient le regard des gens» explique le Pr. Keller. «Avec ce miroir, on pourra suivre exactement les mouvements des yeux.»


Traitement d'images


A l'EPFL, on se charge aussi de l'analyse des images. Basilio Noris, doctorant en informatique, a programmé des logiciels qui passent aux crible les vidéos enregistrées depuis la tête des enfants. Ils repèrent les couleurs et les formes des visages, puis calculent le temps que passe le sujet à fixer une personne ou un objet. Comme les enfants autistes ont de la peine à soutenir le regard des adultes, ils passent en général plus de temps à regarder des objets. Les données interprétées par les scientifiques pourraient, au final, aider les médecins à poser un diagnostic.
Mais on n'en est pas encore là. Le projet, planifié sur trois ans, a commencé en janvier 2006. Il est question également de développer des jouets équipés de senseurs qui permettraient d'enregistrer les mouvements de l'enfant.
«Sur cette vidéo, analyse le Pr. Keller, vous voyez l'éducatrice expliquer à l'enfant le fonctionnement de ce petit téléphone. Elle fait des gestes que le bambin reproduit. Tout ceci est enregistré grâce aux capteurs. Ensuite, sur l'écran de l'ordinateur, vous pouvez suivre les mouvements de chacun et observez le temps de réaction de l'enfant». Des données qui, tout comme précédemment avec la caméra, pourront à terme apporter des informations précieuses aux médecins.

L'image, plus que la parole


Pour la maman du petit Gabriel, ces tests, une fois standardisés, seront sans doute très utiles. Aujourd'hui, elle regrette d'avoir appris si tard la maladie de son fils. «En sachant plus tôt et avec certitude que Gabriel souffrait d'autisme, j'aurais pu l'aider à progresser plus vite. Aujourd'hui, j'ai adapté mon enseignement à son mode d'apprentissage, qui passe davantage par les images que par les paroles, et les progrès sont significatifs.»
Selon une étude réalisée en 2001, l'autisme toucherait en Suisse 0,5 à 0,8% de la population active.










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