The Financial Impact of Autism-Related Mobile Technology

Research on new developments and technologies to improve the lives of people with autism is ongoing and rapidly evolving. Funded by various research institutions, including the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs by the National Institutes of Health, new technologies, including mobile technology (mobile tech), are being created to give those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a sense of purpose, fulfillment and capability.

In other words, the influx of funds does not mean future research is based solely advancing technology. In reality, almost all technological innovations are driven by an unmet need, and this remains true for autism-related mobile technology advancements. The increased funding represents a growing need to satisfy the unmet financial cost of autism, which is projected to reach $1 trillion by 2025, reports Autism Speaks.

As a behavioral therapist, you need to understand what funding sources are commonly being used, why the flow of funds is important to the futures of people with autism, how it will impact current mobile technology uses and applications, and its potential impact on your ability to help people with an ASD.


What’s Happening With Autism and Mobile Tech?

Recently, the NIH awarded the a $152,599 grant as part of the SBIR program to the startup, SPEAK MODalities, reports Purdue University. This company, based at a Purdue research lab, is working to develop the apps, SPEAKall!® and SPEAKmore

SPEAK MODalities designed these apps with the specific goal of helping people with severe communication troubles due to autism. Specifically, estimates show up to 66 percent of people living with autism have problems communicating, and these apps could change the statistics. In fact, users of these apps appear to establish better functional communication skills, allowing caregivers and parents to better help those with autism, explains Oliver Wendt, co-founder of SPEAK MODalities and assistance professor at Perdue University.

The most surprising benefits of the apps are among the most fundamental concept in the use of mobile technology: they benefit people because they are widely accessible to anyone with a smartphone. In addition, this means these apps can be used to help virtually anyone with problems communicating learn how to effectively get their point across through speech. This has major implications for helping people suffering with other types of intellectual disabilities besides ASD too.


Why Are Grants Being Awarded to Mobile-Tech Geared Toward Autism?

The push for better autism treatments is inherently linked with better identification of developmental delays, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is the building blocks of early intervention. Essentially, caregivers and parents who know a child’s development appears delayed can access therapies and treatment programs, such as applied behavior analysis, before development delays result in permanent problems, such as diminished verbal skills.

Many of the apps on the market today, as well as though currently in research stages, are designed for use by people with autism and their immediate caregivers, especially parents. But, the trend appears to be realigning to help behavioral therapists too. According to the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), Dennis Wall, Ph.D. of Stanford University is using machine learning to develop tools to help therapists diagnosis ASD.

Dr. Wall’s app is built almost as a surveying-preclinical application. Similar to pre-registration tools, the app asks parents about a child’s development in key behavioral areas. After entering the information, the app creates a “working list” of which children are at the greatest risk for developmental delays. Ultimately, this risk score was shown to be 90-percent accurate when compared with medical records for an official ASD diagnosis.

These findings suggest the benefits of using an app-based tool to connect behavioral therapists to people who may have autism are immeasurable.


Types of Organizations Eligible for Autism-Related Grants.

Depending on the types of grants or contracts awarded, the eligibility criteria for the SBIR and STTR funding sources vary, reports the SBIR and STTR website. The key differences include the following:

  • The SBIR requires small businesses to collaborate with a nonprofit research institution, comprising 33 percent of total efforts during Phase 1.
  • STTR requires small businesses to perform at least 40 percent of total efforts.

These differences prevent a small business from simply hiring researchers to work exclusively on the grant, enabling business-inclusion of ideas and developments.

Virtually any business may apply for a grant or contract under the SBIR and STTR programs. However, there are a few substantial eligibility requirements, including the following:

  • The company must have less than 500 employees.
  • Less than 50 percent of the company can be made up of foreign business entities.
  • The company must be a for profit.


What Does Autism-Related Mobile Tech and These Funding Sources Mean for Your Organization?

Provided your organization meets the eligibility requirements, you could apply for the SBIR or STTR programs. More importantly, this means you could take serving individuals with autism to a higher level, becoming part of the solution, not just a consumer of available autism apps and technologies. Alternatively, you may want to start exploring apps that connect educational and information-gathering resources together for use by those with autism.

This could dramatically change how you see those with autism or with suspected autism before entering your facility. There are game-changing apps and technologies in infancy and expansion for use in improving the lives of people with autism, and if you know where to look, you could do something to reduce the growing cost of caring for individuals with autism too.

Rather than waiting for the next ground-breaking development, learn about autism through training programs, and start thinking about how you can make a difference in this $1 trillion problem that is ASD.

Mobile technology is available to everyone, meaning you can make a difference. In fact, your contribution could be worth $26,500 annually in saved lifetime costs to individuals with autism, asserts Autism Speaks, so it is in your best interest to think about using mobile tech in working with people with autism today.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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