AutBuddy: A New Mobile App Inspired by a Sisterly Bond

autbuddy Edgars blog postEashana Subramanian, a 12-year-old girl, has developed a new mobile application after noticing the challenges her autistic sister faces on a day to day basis at school. Eashana had been observing her sister Meghana’s behavior and noticed how important routines were to her. Every morning, Meghana wakes up and goes to brush her teeth, comb her hair, dress up, and get ready for school. Eashana realized that when something changed in the structure of her sister’s routine, she would have a hard time following the new pattern.

Eashana saw how her parents struggled to assign the appropriate tasks to Meghana since they had a difficult time keeping up with what was going on at school. It didn’t take long for Eashana to connect the dots together and realize that there was a communication gap between the teachers and her parents. She decided to take matter into her own hands and create a handy app called AutBuddy in order to bridge the distance. “I look at all these problems and said this had to be solved somehow or made easier for my parents. So I thought of AutBuddy that could have features to fix the problems — not fix but help,” explains Eashana. 

The purpose of AutBuddy is to help children on the autism spectrum carry out their routines at home and school in a stable and organized manner. Eashana developed it along with the help of some of her middle school friends in Derwood, Maryland. One of the main functions of the app is its ability to allow the parents to communicate with the teachers in real time so that they don’t get left behind when it comes to lessons and assigned homework duties. The app is also customizable and is personalized to each children’s needs according to their level on the autism spectrum. 

AutBuddy’s development originated at the Adventure in Science Club which is a Maryland-based nonprofit group that promotes science, technology, engineering, and math education. The team of developers include nine other students as well as an advisor and a special education teacher. The group received $20,000 thanks to the 2016 Verizon App Challenge. The next step for the team has them working with members of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where the app will move into production. AutBuddy will be ready to launch on June 1st through Google Play and we couldn’t be more excited for its release!

For additional information, please visit:ABC News

By Edgar Catasus

A spectrum?: How we speak about Autism

2732-autism-4The Atlantic’s Rose Eveleth illustrates the complexities in the language used to discuss Autism Spectrum Disorder, and how the way we describe the condition makes it difficult to define.

Most people are familiar with the idea of a spectrum. “Autism Spectrum Disorder” is the way we think about autism and the way we speak about Autism. However, it is nearly impossible to chart where an indivdual falls on the autism spectrum. After speaking with doctors, epidemiologists, self-advocates, and anthropologists, Eveleth learned that the more we try to pin down what the autism spectrum really looks like, the less clear it will seem.

When you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.No two individuals with Autism are alike. With changes in behavior and individual needs, there is no way to plot each individual condition on a line.

Stephen Edelson, the director the Autism Research Institute speaks on this: “With the spectrum, there’s a wide range, we’re still trying to figure out what that wide range means…I don’t have an answer. Scientific understanding of autism certainly continues to evolve.”

“I think there’s no one continuum necessarily,” says Lisa Gilotty, the autism-spectrum-disorders program chief at the National Institute of Mental Health. “It’s hard because…different people will break that up in very different ways, I’m not sure any of those ways are accurate.”

Because the spectrum has no established poles or ways of measuring, there is little data about how autistic people might be distributed along the spectrum. Different studies measure different aspects from intellectual disability, and verbal ability, and self-injurious behavior, but researchers know very little about what the autism population looks like as a whole.

Many research efforts focus on autism: the causes of the disorder, trying to identify genetic markers, and attempting to understand potential environmental contributors. Little of the funding goes towards figuring out what the spectrum looks like, or how to measure autism. Though experts might have said the spectrum went from “high functioning” to low functioning,” but those terms were never clearly defined. “We just don’t have good ways of measuring functioning-levels overall,” Anne Roux, a researcher at Drexel’s Autism Institute told Eveleth in an email. “For example, we know that 60-70% of people with autism have co-occurring health and mental-health diagnoses. Yet, there are really no measures that account for the role of co-occurring disorders in how people function.”

Part of why it is difficult to measure changes in intellectual disability is due to changes in how autism is diagnosed and classified. The 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) eliminated Asperger’s syndrome, a condition often seen as existing just outside of the autism spectrum. People who used to be diagnosed with Asperger’s have similar behaviors as autistic people- such as difficulties with social interaction and repetitive behaviors- but far fewer problems with verbal language. Now that Asperger’s syndrome is no longer a diagnosis, some of those people fell into an autism diagnosis, while some were no longer considered disabled.

Data from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is challenging to use as a baseline. The data tracks intellectual impairment, the IQ scores of 8-year olds, from 2010. The CDC cautions that the data shouldn’t be used to talk about all people with autism, as data represents a small portion of the population at a very specific period in time.

There are constant efforts in autism research, and the difficulties presented in surrounding discourse speak to a need to evaluate language and the way we speak about autism. Though “Autism Spectrum Disorder” is how we usually think about this condition, the future may present changes in how we think and speak about autism.

 

Duke Launches Autism Research App

A team of researchers and software developers from Duke University and the Duke Medical Center has introduced a free iOS app to learn more about autism in young children living around the world.

Beginning Thursday, a ResearchKit app called “Autism & Beyond” is being offered from the Apple App Store for use on iOS devices. ResearchKit is a new open-source framework developed by Apple that allows researchers to create app-based studies with a global reach.

The free program from Duke is not a diagnostic tool. It is intended to test the reliability of smart phone questionnaires and video analysis of facial expressions as a possible screening tool for autism and other developmental disorders of children.

Parents and children will interact with questionnaires and videos on the app and then receive some feedback, such as how to deal with tantrums if that’s an issue, or what the child’s apparent risk for autism might be. In some cases, families will be encouraged to seek further consultation with their health care providers.

“You can’t diagnose a child with a video screen,” said Helen Egger, M.D., chief of Duke’s Division of Child and Family Mental Health and Developmental Neuroscience and a co-leader of the research team. “We’re interested in getting to a place where we could use the data we’re collecting to give individual advice. But we’re not there yet.”

“Our goal is to develop a screening, like hearing or eyesight at schools,” said Guillermo Sapiro, Ph.D., a professor of electrical and computer engineering. “They don’t get glasses; they get a referral.”

The app was developed over four months of intense work by a large team of Duke programmers, scientists and students who worked in close partnership with Apple. The team behind this app envisions developing related apps to study temper tantrums, picky eating and anxiety, Egger said.

With hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads in use around the world, app-based health studies such as this enable researchers to measure more diverse patient populations faster and more affordably, said Ricky Bloomfield, M.D., director of mobile technology strategy for Duke Medicine. Patient recruitment and informed consent should also be easier through the devices, he said.

In addition to Egger, Sapiro and Bloomfield, the Autism & Beyond team has been led by Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development and mathematician Robert Calderbank, Ph.D., who is director of the Information Initiative at Duke.

The app is intended for use with children ages 1 to 6. “Early detection of children with autism can help us intervene earlier, which greatly improves outcomes,” Dawson said. The Autism & Beyond app is a six-month study, with tests administered at the beginning, three months and six months. Each test takes about 20 minutes to complete.

After a guided set of screens that inform users of the purpose of the research and ask their consent to participate and share their data, the app combines questionnaires and short videos to gather information about a child.

Most of Duke’s innovation comes in the video portion of the app. As the child sits on the parent’s lap watching four short video clips, the device’s user-facing “selfie” camera records the child’s reactions to the videos, which are designed to make them smile, laugh and be surprised.

Analytical software in the app marks key landmarks on the child’s face automatically and assesses his or her emotional responses. For example, in a short video of bubbles floating across the screen, the video algorithm is looking for movements of the face that would indicate joy.

“It’s very visual,” said Sapiro, who has been leading efforts to interpret children’s videotaped behavior with software.

With permission from the app’s users, data captured by Autism & Beyond is uploaded to secure servers at Duke for analysis by the team. Users also have the option not to share video of their child, only the computer-generated facial landmarks. Duke is also hosting a website and hotline number for help. (See autismandbeyondapp.org) “We are trying to be overprotective,” Sapiro said.

The researchers stress that the goal of the app at this stage is to see whether it works well enough to gather useful data, not to provide at-home diagnosis.

“The goal is to see — based on things we already know from our research — whether these interactions elicit certain ephemeral behaviors in the child,” Egger said. A computer seeing at 30 frames per second, for example, can detect better than the human eye whether the child is slightly slower to smile, Egger said.

Automated analysis will also be much faster and cheaper than the labor-intensive analysis of video now done by trained people, Dawson said.

For now, study participants receive feedback on their child’s results on the questionnaires, and resources for coping with the challenges they may be experiencing, Egger said.

But in the long run, self-administered tests like this offer the promise of broader access to mental health screening. “It is simply not possible to train enough people to meet the need for early childhood diagnosis,” Egger said. “This may be the only way to get screening out to more people.”

The Duke team has been working with colleagues in China to roll out a Mandarin version of the app in the world’s most populous market. A team at the University of Cape Town in South Africa is eager to try the app, and a partnership is being established in Argentina to create a Spanish language version of the app for the North and South American Latino population, Sapiro said.

“We’re hoping this app will increase access to mental health and autism screening in different cultures around the world,” Egger said.

Development of this app was supported by National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health (UL1TR001117).

via Stone Hearth News

Autism Screening App in the Making!

Researchers at Duke University are currently working on developing a software that tracks and records your infant’s activity during videotaped autism screening tests. They had very successful results in their trials, showing that the program has been just as good at spotting certain behavioral markers of autism as professionals who would be giving the test themselves and was actually more accurate than non-expert medical clinicians and students in training.

The study focuses on three specific behavioral tests that are used to identify young children who may be on the autism spectrum. The first test get’s the attention of the baby by shaking a toy on their left side and then counting how long it takes for them to shift their attention when the toy is moved to their right side. The second test examines the child’s ability to track motion as a toy passes across their field of view and looks for any delays. The last test involves rolling a ball to a child and seeing if they make any eye contact afterward, which would show some engagement with their play partner.

The new program allows for the person administering the tests to concentrate on the child while the program measures reactions times down to tenths of a second, giving much more accuratereadings. Amy Esler, assistant professor of pediatrics and autism at the University Minnesota, participated in some of these trials and says, “The great benefit of the video and software is for general practitioners who do not have the trained eye to look for subtle early warning signs of autismThese signs would signal to doctors that they need to refer a family to a specialist for a more detailed evaluation.”

Jordan Hashemi, a graduate student in computer and electrical engineering at Duke, further states that they are not trying to replace the experts by proposing this app, but rather are trying to provide a resource and tool for classrooms and homes across the country. They recognize the importance of early intervention and are hoping that this app can be a real tool in catalyzing how early we are able to help those on the autism spectrum.

For more information on how technology is paving the road to opportunity for children on the spectrum, look into day 3 of our upcoming International Autism Conference! Click here for more info! 

For more info on the Information Initiative at Duke and original article, click here.

Humanoid Robot Designed for Autistic Children, Success Already Noticeable!

Aldebaran Robotics has announced their Autism Solution for Kids initiative: ASK NAO. Aldebaran is among world leaders in humanoid robotics design and believes their newest addition to the robot family, NAO, is the “perfect bridge between human and technological worlds” for autistic children, whom often find communication easier with regimented structure that computer-based programs provide. At 2-feet tall, NAO is child-sized, and surprisingly full of personality. “He” can make a good companion, developing social skills and furthering education through games.  Aldebaran intends for NAO to be used as a teaching assistant in special needs classrooms. The robot is able to lead and participate in a variety of educational games aimed at developing verbal skills, non-verbal communication, emotional intelligence, and elementary academic skills. ASK NAO has been tested in three schools, one in England and two in the United States. The Moody Preschool in Massachusetts requested to beta test the program and reported that NAO was useful for inclusion classrooms, providing a social mediator that both typically developing children and those on the autism spectrum found engaging and exciting. The staff observed positive changes in attention span among the autistic kids in just a few weeks. One teacher asserted, “Some students who barely react to people had a great reaction to the robot.” Head teacher of the special needs program at Topcliffe Primary in Birmingham, England explained an aspect of NAO’s success with his students, saying “The robots have no emotion, so autistic children find them less threatening than their teachers and easier to engage with. Children who first come into school unable to make eye contact with humans start to communicate through the robots.” Topcliffe Primary has had two robots for over a year—Ben & Max. You can see a video of Topcliffe’s success with ASK NAO in this news feature.

Share your opinion on humanoid robots for autistic children here!

 

Gee, Sue. “NAO Works With Autistic Children.” NAO Works With Autistic Children. N.p., 5 May 2013. Web. 07 May 2013. <http://www.i-programmer.info/news/169-robotics/5837-nao-works-with-autistic-children.html>.

Possible Association Between Ultrasounds & Autism

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Margulis, author of The Business of Baby, exposes the cultural assumptions and institutional practices dictating pregnancy, childbirth, and infant nurturing as influenced by corporate interests rather than based on the best medical evidence. Margulis is a Senior Fellow at Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, and an award winning parenting writer. In an article yesterday for Newsweek: The Daily Beast, Margulis expresses informed skepticism regarding the health risks of the casual use of ultrasounds during pregnancy. Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), formerly referred to as retardation, is among conditions that physicians utilize ultrasound technology to identify during pregnancy. However, ultrasounds themselves may be associated with the development of IUGR and they may not be any more instrumental in identifying them than palpation of the pregnant woman’s abdomen. Former director of Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization firmly asserted the later claim saying, “There is no justification for clinicians using routine ultrasound during pregnancy for the management of IUGR.” A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared outcomes for children of pregnant women who received two scans with that of those who received scans only when other medical indicators necessitated further investigation, finding that ultrasound scan has no positive bearing on fetal outcome. Explaining the discrepancy between utility and use may be the over $1 billion additional annual cost of routine ultrasounds in the U.S. To add injury to insult, a study published in Lancet found that women who received five ultrasounds had a significantly higher chance of developing intrauterine growth restriction than women who received one scan at eighteen weeks. One possible explanation for this association was found through a 2006 study conducted by neuroscientist Pasko Rakic M.D. and Yale University School of Medicine, finding that prenatal exposure to ultrasound waves affects the way that neurons arrange in the brains of mice. Though these findings are part of a larger, ongoing study utilizing primate brains, researcher Rakic considered the data too significant to withhold until the outcome of the larger study, warning, “We should be using the same care with ultrasound as with X-rays.” For Margulis’ full article, visit here or go to www.jennifermargulis.net additional writings regarding parenting and health.

 

Margulis, Jennifer. “Are Ultrasounds Causing Autism in Unborn Babies?” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 29 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/04/29/are-ultrasounds-causing-autism-in-unborn-babies.html>.

 

University-Wide Learning Management Software Appropriated to Aid Autistic Students in Collaboration Skills

The cyber world of tech-enthusiasts is all-a-buzz over Bellevue College’s new use of school-wide learning management software to aid autistic students with collaboration skills. Bellevue College in Washington is home to Autism Spectrum Navigators, a support and skill development program for students with ASD. Throughout this past academic year, the Navigators have employed a new resource for aiding autistic students in collaboration with small academic groups. The software, Canvas, has a discussion board feature through which teachers and students can share assignments, grades, and interactive materials including audio and video. The content is manageable from smartphone and tablet interfaces as well, enabling continual access to the course dialogue and mediating the social component of learning. Sara Gardner, the manager of the Navigator program, asserts that since appropriating the Canvas discussion board feature for autistic assistance, the program has seen a marked increase in confidence and communication among students. Gardner advocates for the use mediating social tools for autistics. On the spectrum herself, Gardner telecommutes for part of each week to lessen exposure to social interactions that can be disrupting and strenuous for individuals with ASD.

Of the members of Navigators, students who utilized the Canvas program have completed more courses than those not involved in the program and have improved their grades overall. Brain Whitmer, co-founder of Instructure (the company responsible for Canvas), has a six-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum. While Whitmer did not intend for the program to be utilized particularly for autistic students, he comments on the success of Bellevue College’s adaptation saying, “It’s great to hear about how Canvas can help with autism, and that’s something I’d like to continue to help with in the future.” [i]



[i] Hambien, Matt. “Bellevue College Looks to Online Software to Help Autistic Students Collaborate.” Computer World. N.p., 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9238727/Bellevue_College_looks_to_online_software_to_help_autistic_students_collaborate?taxonomyId=18&pageNumber=2>.

 

Smartphones Put Healthcare In The Palm Of Your Hands

 

 

 

 

Having trouble managing your child’s healthcare schedule? Is it difficult to engage your child in interactive games or educational material? Does family travel seem like more trouble than it’s worth? What ever your particular concerns may be, it seems “there’s an app for that.”â From Autism to Alzheimer’s, smartphone applications are making care easier, more affordable, and portable. New applications are being released faster than they can be downloaded. There are so many, in fact, that there is now a free app that is just a comprehensive list of other autism apps with reviews by parents and specialists, simply named ‘Autism Apps.’ Apps aid in everything from communication development to healthcare scheduling, or, just offer sensory friendly amusement like the popular game Angry Birds. Many apps are replacing sophisticated, costly devices. Apps like First Then Visual Schedule (FTVS) can make everyday a little easier, with quick pictorial to-do lists for the day, preventing upsets from unexpected activities with just the drag of a finger. Proloque2Go provides augmentative and alternative communication solutions for autistic children with difficulty speaking by utilizing symbolic communication to develop literacy, drawing from a library of over 14,000 symbols. Apps even offer promising solutions for healthcare and research professionals, allowing long term tracking of patient behavioral patterns and environmental exposure through programs like Autism Tracker Pro. Check out the most recent reviews of Autism apps at LAPTOP reviews. Share your favorite apps or ideas for useful apps below!

Virtual Reality: Can Video Games Teach Social Skills?

 

 

 

 

A study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders reveals a distinction between uses of technology for autistics and typically developing children, suggesting further development of recreational technology tailored to develop social skills. Researchers Micah O. Mazurek and Colleen Wenstrup measure how children with autism spectrum disorder use technology in comparison to their typically developing siblings. Findings show that children with ASD spent 62% more time watching television and playing video games than in non-screen activities combined. Children with ASD showed more risk of “problematic video game use,”i spending on average about an hour more each day gaming then their typically developing siblings. However, siblings were found to spend more time using social media or socially interactive video games. Autistics often demonstrate obsessive, highly focused characteristics, which are beneficial for performance with video games. Games and tablet/phone apps for autism have been in vogue as of late and can be very useful in preparing autistics for careers. However, these programs do not take into account social stimulus. If autistics are steering clear of socially interactive video games, how do we incorporate social skills into the strategy of video games. Dr. Mazurek asserts the potential of utilizing video games for autistics saying, “Using screen-based technologies, communication, and social skills could be taught and reinforced right away. However, more research is needed to determine whether the skills children with ASD might learn in virtual realty environments would translate into actual social interactions.”[i] What games do your kids prefer and how do you think these games might be altered to strengthen social skills?

 



 

[i] “Research Finds That Video Games Hold Both Risks and Rewards for Children with Autism.” Digital Trends. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/research-finds-that-video-games-hold-both-risks-and-rewards-for-children-with-autism-spectrum-disorders/>.

 

Mazurek, Micah O., and Colleen Wenstrup. “Television, Video Game and Social Media Use Among Children with ASD and Typically Developing Siblings.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2012): n. pag. Springer Link. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10803-012-1659-9>.