New research suggests that a simple iPhone app could be instrumental in helping screen children for autism from the comfort of home.

The app called Autism and Beyond solicits information from parents and videos of their children.

“We found that this app provided data consistent with what we see in a traditional clinical research setting,” said Helen L. Egger, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, who led the study published this month in the journal npj Digital Medicine.

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The app guides families through a series of questionnaires on their background, any concerns about their child and asks about possible signs of autism. In addition, parents used the app to record videos of their kids as they watched four short movies designed to elicit certain behaviors.

More than 1,750 families submitted information and videos of their children ages 1 to 6 via the app for the study. Researchers then used a computer algorithm to track facial movements and code each child’s emotions and attention.

Ultimately, the software was able to distinguish children at higher risk for autism who tended to have a more neutral response to stimulation in the videos, which showed floating bubbles or a bunny, among other positive imagery.

Researchers said the findings indicate that technologies like this are well-received by families and could be used to make screening more widely available, potentially speeding diagnosis and treatment.

Currently, most children with autism are not diagnosed until after age 4 even though the developmental disorder can reliably be flagged at age 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The shortage of child mental health experts is a global issue, and we need new and ambitious solutions to address it,” Egger said. “We seek to create apps that are feasible and scalable so that we can bring mental health resources into people’s homes and reach underserved children around the world.”

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