ASDetect is the best Autism detection app

Posted on February 13, 2016 12:49 am

ASDetect is a new smartphone app that helps detect signs of autism in babies as young as 12 months and also offers more children with the condition the chance to receive life-altering early intervention. ASDetect has been developed by Victorian researchers in Australia, arguably the most powerful autism detection tool at the moment that puts knowledge directly in the hands of concerned parents.The global average age of autism diagnosis in is five years old, while fewer than 5 per cent of children with autism being diagnosed before the age of three. I sought the views of an autism expert currently working in Montreal Canada about her views on the app that has become popular with parents in Australia. Started by asking her what went through her mind when she was told by her doctor that her son was autistic. In her case, it was the end of the world when her son was diagnosed with autism. The question of “why us?” lingered for years, but as the French say Contador Harrison, c’est la vie, and life must go on, she said.Increasing global awareness and recognition of children with autism is fast gaining traction all over the world including Africa where year after year, autism cases have grown. Now autism is considered like a pandemic, with no country immune to it.

Unlike the western World, African countries have no reliable data on autism cases. “If 5 years ago it was estimated that the number of people with autism was one per 10,000 children, now it has increased to one per 3000 children,” said a psychiatrist who is working in Canadian city of Montreal. According to one estimate that surveyed around 15 African countries, the current prevalence level of autism is alarming. Africa has 1,987,067 known cases.Interestingly, the worldwide increase of the disorder remains unexplained. ASDetect app takes parents through a series of tests and questions to help identify whether their children may have Autism Spectrum Disorder.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.The ASDetect smartphone app, created by La Trobe University, shows parents how to spot autism “red flags” in their children from the age of 12 months. The app, which launches tomorrow in Australia, plays videos of normal and “red flag” behaviours and asks parents questions, providing do-it-yourself assessments for kids aged 12 months, 18 months and 24 months.It was developed by Dr Josie Barbaro after a decade-long study of 30,000 children.

Her autism detection method identified 2 per cent of those children for formal assessments and 81 per cent of those did have autism.The average autism diagnosis is not made until children turn four but Dr Barbaro said these tests should be part of routine checks of infants.According to policymakers and public health experts have turned a blind eye to the condition, particularly in low and middle-income countries with African being worse affected. Consequently, children and families in need in those countries often have poor access to services and do not receive adequate treatment and care. Although there is no widely accepted definition of autism, it is generally understood that autism is a complex neurodevelopment disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime and there’s no doubt ASDetect will come handy for many parents. The disorder is characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social abilities and the symptoms range from mild to severe. But many believe that early intervention may make a big difference.As a mother with her only child diagnosed with autism, the Canadian expert told me that global efforts to raise awareness are a relief with ASDetect expected to help even more people, although I she does not know whether the ASDetect app will be translated into action aimed at seriously dealing with this disorder and its impact among families.

In Africa, raising children with autism is not an easy task for families. I know of a parent who had to send his daughter to Lusaka for her education and treatment since he couldn’t afford the same kind of treatment and education in rural area of Zambia with my meager civil servant salary and a small amount of savings after working abroad. Autism treatment and education is ridiculously expensive in rural areas in Africa. I had to pay US$50 per session for speech therapy, one of therapies that my daughter should undergo in Lusaka while the same treatment costs $100 per session in Copperbelt. Consequently, myself and mostly my wife had to find time and resources to see our daughter as much as we can to ensure that she is in a good condition, which is also not cheap.Being separated is also quite difficult for a family, particularly when your child has special needs. The situation is complicated as my office does not have a branch in Lusaka. Many stories reveal that families in Zambia have had to relocate or even sell their properties for the betterment of their autistic child. There have also been cases of divorces due to the difficult situation.It is suspected that the high price of autism treatment, care and education in African countries like Zambia is due to limited human resources, particularly with both medical practitioners and specialized therapists and teachers. If you open the websites of autism organizations in different countries in Africa, the autism centers and medical practitioners mentioned there are limited in number and are mostly concentrated in the big cities.

The level of autism awareness varies from country to country. In most countries, however, parents have always been pioneering awareness campaigns and interventions. African countries are no exception. Many centers for children with autism in Africa were initially established due to the interests of the family in ensuring the survival of their offspring. I have heard stories that many of so-called therapists and teachers, even parents in those institutions in their early days, including in my child’s school, were recruited without or with limited knowledge of autism. But as time passed, they developed more expertise under the supervision of medical practitioners hired by the parents.Hence, greater efforts in advocacy, awareness, research and human resource development are compulsory. In this regard, government intervention on the autism issue is imperative if African countries are serious about dealing with the phenomenon. Intervention could take the form of establishing more inclusive schools for children with autism and formal programs in universities or academies for educators and therapists in order to better handle autistic children in Africa. More government health centers that provide services to children with autism and medical research on the disorder are also required. African countries must aggressively invest in research and develop a comprehensive action plan that coordinates efforts between the public and private sectors.Overall, ASDetect will revolutionize the way we identify autism, because currently not many people have access to specialists in early detection and diagnosis of autism whether they are in Australia or Africa.

Contador Harrison