Autism screening system could benefit millions of Indian children

February 14, 2017
Autism screening system could benefit millions of Indian children
Credit: University of Reading

More than two million children in India could benefit from new research into a new low-cost ways to detect autism risk.

A group of researchers, led by Professor Bhismadev Chakrabarti at the University of Reading, have been awarded a £585,000 grant from the Medical Research Council UK to develop low cost, scalable tools to screen children in India for signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).

The project will begin trials this year in communities around New Delhi.

Professor Chakrabarti, Professor of Neuroscience & Mental Health at the University of Reading, said:

"Autism can cause social isolation and a poorer quality of life for children and their families. Estimates from across the world suggest that around one percent of all children have an . This means that countries such as India potentially have several million children with ASD, many of whom remain undiagnosed.

"Not having a diagnosis in time can reduce the chances of improvement later on through interventions. That's why it is paramount to develop tools that aid early detection of autism risk.

"Many parents are unaware that, if their child misses certain developmental milestones, it could be an early warning sign for ASD. This avoidable delay is a tragedy in light of the evidence that simple, early interventions, delivered by healthcare workers with help from parents, can lead to significant improvements for children and their families."

Low cost mobile solution

The programme will begin with the development of a low-cost mobile platform for detection of ('Screening Tools for Autism Risk using Technology' (START)) which can be used in the home or clinic by non-specialist health workers.

Following initial trials in the New Delhi region, it is hoped that with further funding the same technology could be used to reach any of the 350m children in India.

The developers also believe that if successful, such a system could be rolled out in other parts of the world which do not have adequate resources for care.

Academic institutions that will be part of the consortium include Harvard University, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Birkbeck University of London, Nottingham Trent University, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and the Public Health Foundation of India, bringing together expertise in clinical psychology, neuroscience, technological innovation and public health research. This platform will be developed in collaboration with Therapy Box UK limited.

Reducing burden

The mobile platform will combine a range of measures including questionnaires for parents, as well as multiple measures of child behaviour that can be recorded on a regular tablet computer, such as an iPad.

Importantly, START will be designed to be used by non-specialist healthcare workers requiring very little extra training, allowing it to reach much wider populations. This is in keeping with the World Health Organisation concept of 'task-shifting'.

Professor Chakrabarti continued:

"We hope to reduce the burden on the small number of highly-skilled mental-health professionals, who then are free to focus on confirming diagnoses and prescribing appropriate interventions,"

"In this way, more people will get the support they require and the public can become better informed about Autism Spectrum Disorders in the process."

The project builds on previous research that showed the value of translating screening tests into two local languages, Hindi and Bengali. More recent research has also shown that cognitive tasks commonly used to measure autism-related behaviour in western countries, when translated to Bengali, show similar properties in an Indian sample.

Worldwide, one in 161 children are diagnosed or diagnosable with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Although parents may notice ASD symptoms as early as 24 months, social and economic barriers to access to qualified health personnel mean that most of these do not receive early diagnosis or intervention - or indeed any diagnosis or intervention at all.

Explore further: New research means 360 million more people in India can be tested for autism

More information: Alokananda Rudra et al. Bengali translation and characterisation of four cognitive and trait measures for autism spectrum conditions in India, Molecular Autism (2016). DOI: 10.1186/s13229-016-0111-y

Related Stories

New research means 360 million more people in India can be tested for autism

October 20, 2014
A research project by the University of Reading could lead to more people in India receiving earlier diagnosis and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) than ever before.

Researchers outline new policies for earlier detection of autism in children

February 2, 2017
The earlier that autism is diagnosed and treated in children, the better outcomes they will experience for future relationships and careers. However, most children aren't detected and diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder ...

India and Pakistan set to benefit from new autism treatment

December 16, 2015
In a world first, clinical researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester have collaborated with colleagues in south Asia to adapt a parent-led autism therapy.

Vitamin D supplements may benefit children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

November 21, 2016
Vitamin D supplementation improved symptoms of autism in a recent trial.

Smartphone app for early autism detection being developed

November 11, 2016
What if someone invented a smartphone app that could help detect autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children as young as 2 years old? Could it lead to earlier detection and therefore better treatment?

Children with autism need intervention over a long period of time

March 24, 2016
9 out of 10 preschool children with autism still have major difficulties within the autism field at school age, despite having received early intervention. A majority of the parents stated that the children do not receive ...

Recommended for you

Social phobia linked to autism and schizophrenia

December 11, 2017
New Swinburne research shows that people who find social situations difficult tend to have similar brain responses to those with schizophrenia or autism.

Odors that carry social cues seem to affect volunteers on the autism spectrum differently

November 27, 2017
Autism typically involves the inability to read social cues. We most often associate this with visual difficulty in interpreting facial expression, but new research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that the sense ...

Video game improves balance in youth with autism

November 21, 2017
Playing a video game that rewards participants for holding various "ninja" poses could help children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their balance, according to a recent study in the Journal of Autism ...

Potential new autism drug shows promise in mice

November 14, 2017
Scientists have performed a successful test of a possible new drug in a mouse model of an autism disorder. The candidate drug, called NitroSynapsin, largely corrected electrical, behavioral and brain abnormalities in the ...

Relational factors in music therapy can contribute to positive outcome for children with autism

November 6, 2017
It might not surprise that good relationships create good outcomes, as meaningful relational experiences are crucial to all of us in our everyday life. However, the development of a relationship with a child with autism may ...

In autism, too many brain connections may be at root of condition

November 2, 2017
A defective gene linked to autism influences how neurons connect and communicate with each other in the brain, according to a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Rodents that lack the gene form ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.