Apple Lends Hand To Autism Research
Apple is teaming up with autism researchers in an effort to assess whether the iPhone could be used to help identify young children who may be on the spectrum.
The technology giant said this week that autism is one of three new conditions that will be studied through ResearchKit, an open-source framework that allows scientists to collect data via iPhone apps.
Through an app called “Autism & Beyond” that takes advantage of Apple’s ResearchKit technology, Duke University researchers are looking to collect information from families around the world to test whether a smartphone app can reliably screen kids for autism.
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The app includes a parent questionnaire as well as a series of short videos for the child to watch, which are designed to elicit various emotions. Using the iPhone’s camera function, analytical software within the app will assess the children’s facial responses.
Researchers said they hope to collect information from children ages 1 to 6 three times each over the course of six months. Parents will receive feedback, which could include tips for addressing behavior issues or a recommendation that they seek further evaluation for their child.
“Our goal is to develop a screening, like hearing or eyesight at schools,” said Guillermo Sapiro, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke. “They don’t get glasses — they get a referral.”
If successful, researchers said that app-based screening could help identify children with autism at younger ages allowing them to enter intervention programs sooner and see better outcomes long-term.
“It is simply not possible to train enough people to meet the need for early childhood diagnosis,” said Helen Egger, chief of Duke’s Division of Child and Family Mental Health and Developmental Neuroscience. “This may be the only way to get screening out to more people.”
First launched six months ago, Apple said more than 100,000 people are already participating in ResearchKit studies looking at everything from asthma to Parkinson’s disease. In addition to autism, Apple said that new projects will focus on epilepsy and melanoma.