Under-resourced areas across the globe lack access to autism tools and therapy
Global access to doctors and teachers specialising in autism is poor, especially in socioeconomically under-resourced areas of both developing and developed countries. There simply are not enough trained people to go around. Tools for autism diagnosis and therapy are normed for Western languages and cultures, and priced for developed economies.
Addressing the Challenge
Localised tools for identifying autism
To help community-based health workers, teachers and families to identify and treat autism, Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is developing mobile computing tools to flag up possible cases in young children, and to treat them through developing visuomotor, language and other skills.
Screening tests for autism are also being adapted for local cultures, and translated into languages spoken within communities in India and the UK, such as Bangla and Hindi. Elements of this work are funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research, the UK Medical Research Council, and the European Research Council (Horizon 2020).
NTU’s autism research is led by Dr Matthew Belmonte, who combines expertise in computer science and software engineering, the cognitive neuroscience of autism, and Indian cultural contexts.
It involves collaborators from the Com DEALL Trust (Bangalore), Calcutta Medical College, the National Brain Research Centre (Manesar), the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (Delhi), the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Sangath (Goa), and the NHS Peterborough Neurodevelopmental Service. Other universities collaborating on the project include the University of Cambridge, the University of Reading, the University of Bedfordshire, and Birkbeck College London. The Horizon 2020 work in particular is an NTU collaboration led by Professor David Brown, which involves a broad network of European partners.
Making a Difference
Building effective and accessible tools for diagnosing autism across cultures
The work is rolling out mobile computing systems to assist community health workers, teachers, and families. It gives children access to autism screening and services, and allows overstretched teachers and health workers to reach more children more effectively. It is producing and validating tests for diagnostic screening and assessments that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, as well as being economically accessible.
These benefits are being realised within and beyond low-resource environments in India, and in socioeconomically, culturally and linguistically diverse communities in the UK. Various project tools are in clinical use at a network of centres in India, under testing at NHS Peterborough in the UK, and scheduled for deployment in rural communities in India in 2018.