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New autism app shows potential for in-home screening of children

Early detection and intervention are important for individuals with autism, which is one of the most common childhood neurodevelopment disorders in the United States. However, many children do not get diagnosed until they are around four years of age due to factors such as lack of public awareness and long clinical appointment wait times.

A new iPhone app aims to change that by enabling parents to conduct in-home screenings to identify autism risk among children earlier in life. Autism and Beyond is a free app that was developed on Apple’s ResearchKit platform in an effort to address the lack of reliable tools for analyzing children’s behaviors and emotions outside clinical settings.

A recent study described the app as an innovative, easy-to-use and scalable way of identifying signs of autism and gathering accurate data in a child-friendly environment. Currently, autism screening occurs in clinical settings under the supervision of medical professionals. Parents can use the data from the app to determine whether clinical help is necessary for their child.

Autism and Beyond uses the smartphone’s camera to capture videos of how children react to movies that aim to prompt autism risk behaviors on the device’s screen. Behavioral coding software then automatically monitors the child’s facial expressions and converts them into data.

The app can help track a child’s changes over time. Not only can it potentially allow for earlier autism intervention, but the technology can also benefit underserved areas. The goal of the app developers is to provide parents with information about their child’s mental health that is easily accessible and scientifically sound.