Free smartphone app to help detect autism in toddlers

 Photo: Getty Images

A free smartphone app could help parents detect autism in children as young as 12 months old.

La Trobe University's Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre this week launched ASDetect, an app they say will help ensure children with autism receive vital early intervention.

A sample of the ASDetect app.
A sample of the ASDetect app. Photo: ASDetect

The app uses questions drawn from research by autism expert and psychologist Dr Josephine Barbaro, and gives parents access to video footage from actual clinical assessments that clearly demonstrate the context and expected key behaviours of children at each age.

Dr Barbaro says the app will revolutionise the way autism is identified.

"ASDetect is an empowering tool for parents who may feel their children are developing differently than expected and are looking for answers. The new ASDetect app is an ideal way to share proven techniques with thousands of parents," she said.

"All typically developing infants are motivated to be social, look at other people's faces, learn from them and copy.

"Children with ASD are not doing this - and we can now accurately identify this at a much younger age and take action, with the help of parents." 

The app combines Dr Barbaro's assessment questions with videos demonstrating the "red flag" behaviours critical in determining the likelihood of ASD in children as young as 12 months.

Parents view two videos: one showing a child with ASD, the other showing a typically developing child. Parents then answer questions regarding their own child.

The information entered by the parents is automatically sent to OTARC's database where analysis of individual results is completed.

Parents are then sent information via a notification through the app, with advice as to whether they should seek professional help. As ASD can emerge over time, ASDetect includes assessments for children aged 12 months, 18 months and 24 months.

"This is not a replacement for professional assessment; however ASDetect will provide parents with an indication as to whether they should seek a professional opinion from a doctor at a time when intervention will have the biggest impact," Dr Barbaro said.

The average age of autism diagnosis in Australia is currently four years old and it can take as long as four years, from when parents first raise concerns about their child, to receive a formal diagnosis of autism.

Signs of autism in young children

  • Does not make consistent eye contact
  • Does not share smiles
  • Does not show their toys to others
  • Does not play social games
  • Does not point to indicate interest
  • Does not respond when their name is called

The app is available for free on the App Store and Google Play