When autism met smartphones and apps

Image | Lance Neilson

All disorders that affect the nervous system are complicated, but autism goes a step beyond, as it is developed since childhood. According to data from the World Health Organization, on average, one in every 160 children has autism.

Can technology help resolve problems from such disorders? Apparently so, the proliferation of personal devices such as smartphones and tablets could help support the development of communication in autistic children. According to a study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, autistic children that interacted with a tablet and a special application showed improvements in spontaneous expressions of communication, unlike those who did not use those applications.

The study involved a total of 61 children between 5 and 8 years old. The analysis was performed in two stages: one in which they used a specific application and another without. After analyzing the results it was concluded that, in general, children with this disease can obtain rapid and significant advances in their language development incorporating the use of a tablet with a specific software tool.

When autism met smartphones and apps

Image | Texas A&M University CMCP

Applications that you can download

There are numerous apps that support or complement in one way or another treatment for children with autism. The association Autism Speaks offers an application section on their website in three categories:

  • Anecdotal: the app doesn´t have a scientific study or research.
  • Research: it has some type of research, but not a scientific study that supports it.
  • Evidence: it is scientifically proven that the app helps to treat autism.

In the app section, you can also apply filters to more easily locate the apps that might be the most appropriate for the treatment of each individual child. This classification warns that you should be selective when deciding to use a specific app. Other civil organizations or private entities that list and recommend apps on the subect are Parenting.com, Parents.com and Autism Association of Western Australia, among others.

When autism met smartphones and apps

They help, but do not solve it

There are many diseases that medicine and technology advances still cannot cure. One of those is autism. The first thing that experts recommend is to not create false expectations from using these types of tools based on mobile technology. In an article published by CNN it describes a case in which the use of mobile devices brought a child with autism greater independence from his parents, since his interaction with the device brought continuous entertainment based on what interested him. However, this achievement is only a small step in the long process of treating autism, and the result may be lost if it is not accompanied with other treatment methodologies.

For the Spanish therapist Jorge García Caballero, tablets allow children with autism to “better link to the outside world, allowing them to understand and develop an inner associative world with the possibility to express themselves more and better, in an evolutionary continuon from visual to verbal”. García Caballero adds that at all times you should maintain the principle of extinction and backward chaining, meaning that you should remove the tablet once learning has been cemented.

Both the Spanish therapist and other experts are insistent in stating that apps and tablets are not miracle workers. Its use should be supervised by professionals and within a comprehensive treatment program. The family´s collaboration is crucial and should understand that results will vary depending on the case.

The mHealth competence centre forms part of Mobile World Capital Barcelona’s Programme of International Competence Centers (PCCI). mHealth works with a three-fold objective: to identify mobile technology opportunities in the provision of health services, to transform current healthcare models and processes, and promote the interoperability of health services in the field of mobile technologies and connectivity, building foundations that make it possible to integrate mobile health solutions.

Mobile World Capital presents a global vision that effectively integrates mobile technologies into the fabric of the industries transforming our lives. Committed to expanding the mobile experience throughout Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain with strong support of the public and private sector.

Mobile World Capital is leading mobile transformation through commitments in Competence Centres, local Industry Development, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation programmes.

MWCapital offers an open platform and exhibition showroom where citizens can understand and experience how mobile is enhancing our lives: The Mobile World Centre, located in the heart of Barcelona on Plaza Catalunya.

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