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Designing a mobile app to support parents/carers of children undergoing assessment for autism

Mar 2019: Researchers at the SMC Research Centre for Learning Difficulties are working alongside people with autism to design an app to help families through the diagnostic process with a child.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is thought to affect around 1 in 100 people. Autism is typically diagnosed in childhood. In Lothian, data suggest that around 800 children are assessed for autism every year, and around 80% of those will receive a diagnosis of autism. Diagnosis can be a lengthy process: the average diagnosis waiting time for children in Scotland in 2011 was 331 days – for some families this is quicker or longer. Research suggests that the length of the diagnostic process is, in part, due to clinicians not having all the relevant information about the child at each appointment. The process can be challenging for parents/carers, not least because they are navigating a complex system.

In addition, parents/carers often report being ‘left in limbo’ both before and after the initial assessment, with little information about what is happening or how to deal with the situation. Under the principles of ‘Getting It Right for Every Child’, support should be given to families as soon as it is needed, whether or not a child has a diagnosis.

a woman looking at a tablet computer with a toddler and a baby

This project plans to develop an interactive mobile phone app, co-designed by parents/carers of children with autism, to support parents/carers through the diagnostic process. The app will give parents/carers information about the diagnostic process, including the sorts of people they will meet at each appointment and what their roles are, and sign-posting to other sources of support. Parents/carers will also be able to use the interactive elements of the app, which include the ability to record diary-like information (with text message reminders to input data), areas where clips of film can be uploaded to demonstrate behaviours to clinicians, and a prioritisation feature, for parents/carers to prepare what their priorities are. App users should be reassured that close attention will be paid to ethics and data privacy concerns, and that this will include input from the autistic community. It is hoped that this app will assist parents/carers in bringing together the information they require for appointments and allow them to get across their views and experiences more easily.

The project is led by Dr Louise Marryat and a team of researchers at the SMC Research Centre for Learning Difficulties, based in CCBS, University of Edinburgh, and their third sector partner, The Salvesen Mindroom Centre. They will work in collaboration with Intelligent Mobile, who will lead on app design, and with a parent-led network, Colouring Outside the Lines, who will provide additional links with parents, to participate in co-designing the app.

Funding by the Healthier Lives Data Fund will bring together this diverse team, along with parents/carers of children with autism, to co-design the app. This exciting project combines the latest research and technology alongside lived experience, in order to produce a product which will be useful to parents/carers and clinicians alike. The app will be tested by parents/carers of children with autism /suspected autism and then revealed at the Nesta demo day in December 2019.

The project is funded by the Scottish Government and administered by Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology & Arts).

Related links

Dr Louise Marryat's profile