Autism app ASDetect helping parents detect, diagnose signs of condition
A new smartphone app that helps detect signs of autism in babies as young as 12 months will give more children with the condition the chance to receive life-altering early intervention, experts have said.
The average age of autism diagnosis in Australia is four years old, while fewer than 3 per cent of children with autism are diagnosed before the age of two.
Autism expert and psychologist Dr Josephine Barbaro said early diagnosis gave children the best chance of successful outcomes.
“I think it’ll revolutionise the way we identify autism, because currently not many people have access to specialists in early detection and diagnosis of autism,” she said.
“So what we’re doing is taking cutting-edge research and putting it in this app so anyone can access it from the comfort of their own home.”
ASDetect takes parents through a series of tests and questions to help identify whether their children may have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Parents are asked a series of questions around the potential warning signs of ASD, including children repeatedly avoiding eye contact or not responding to their name when called.
They are then informed via a message on the app about the likelihood of their child having autism, and whether they should seek professional help and get a proper assessment.
“We really want to stress this app isn’t a diagnosis for autism. It’s really about the likelihood of having autism,” she said.
Professor Barbaro said studies had shown it typically takes four years from when a parent believes their child may have autism, to when they received a formal diagnosis.
“So we really need to start acting fast and empowering parents and giving them the tools so that when they go to the doctor, the doctor is actually listening to them and taking their child to get an assessment,” she said.
“It really is about trying to get children to learn as many skills as they can prior to school entry.”
About one in 50 children have autism.
Early diagnosis key to children coping
Genevieve Zappulla suspected one of her two-year-old twin sons, Henry, may have had autism from a young age.
“He had lower tone, he took longer to smile, he just didn’t have that same level of interaction and that feedback that you would,” she said.
“And because he had a direct comparison in his twin, it made it a lot more obvious that he was a little bit behind.”
Henry was formally diagnosed with autism a few months ago.
Ms Zappulla believed it will make a big difference to how he is able to cope in future.
“We’re having home visits, we’ve had access to speech therapy and physio,” she said.
“It will allow him to have the opportunity to be on par with his twin at least, and by the time he goes to school he may be at the stage when he won’t be having the issues with settling, with social interaction.
“Hopefully the run will be a little smoother for him.”
Service provider Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT) has welcomed the app, but stressed that it should not be used as a stand-alone tool.
“I think it’s important for parents to realise it’s not in replacement of a formal diagnosis, it’s just there as an indicator of potential symptoms that may be there,” behaviour support specialist Vicki Cooper said.
“Just because your child isn’t doing something at 18 months, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to go on and have autism.”
Signs of autism at 18 months old:
- Does not imitate action of others when invited (e.g. banging building blocks together)
- Avoids eye contact
- Does not use gestures like waving goodbye, nodding
- Does not share smiles without being tickled or touched first