Latest attempts at mobile autism treatment highlight ease of use

A North Carolina start-up, AustismSphere, is taking another run at using mobile health to help treat the symptoms of autism. It has been tried before, but without success, largely because parents and caregivers had problems operating previous mobile-enabled software, AutismSphere's co-creator Gary Mesibov, told MedCity News. Mesibov also serves as a professor of psychology and an autism expert at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine.

The new company is banking on the ease of use of apps and smartphones as a way to crack the autism code. It's beta-testing its software in a school district in Wilson County, N.C.

What could make a difference, company officials say, is the customization possible with smartphone apps. For example, to-do lists and schedules are powerful organizational aides for children with autism, but need to be highly detailed to engage their attention. The new app can be set up for each child's level of interest, and according to the tasks he or she most needs help with.

The app also can be set up with a reward system for adherence, allowing the child to unlock a game after he or she has completed a task, Mesibov says.

Other apps also may be making the grade when it comes to helping children with autism in critical areas of social interaction, language and behavior. Occupational therapists at Thomas Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., tell the that apps like iCommunicate, Draw ABC and ArtikPix are helping such children to communicate.

iCommunicate provides "story boards" that allow children to illustrate situations and express their thoughts. Responding to ArtikPix' s flashcards can help kids overcome speech delays. And Draw ABC HD encourages children to practice writing their letters.

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