Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre

"Suddenly, parents have a powerful tool they can use on their phone, on their iPad, on their computer, which can guide them toward assessing their little child."

Professor Cheryl Dissanayake,
Director, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University

Salesforce changes the outlook for parents regarding the early detection of Autism in their children

Today, 1 in 68 individuals are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The time of diagnosis has proven to be very important, as early intervention can significantly improve long-term outcomes and quality of life.

The Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) at La Trobe University, over the past 10 years, has trained 220 Melbourne nurses to observe children at the earliest possible time. From the nurse’s observation, an algorithm calculates if a child has a high likelihood of having an ASD. Now, it is releasing a mobile app that will enable parents to make the same observations – that link to the same algorithm – from wherever they are.

Salesforce has proudly supported OTARC in this journey, donating time and resources to help the research centre design and build its mobile app ASDetect using Heroku in the Salesforce App Cloud.

The early signs of Autism can be very difficult to detect. Currently, the average age of diagnosis is between four and five.

Early detection means early intervention. And for OTARC, the first step in overcoming the barriers to early assessment was to develop a program to monitor children within Victoria’s existing maternal and child health system. Over 200 nurses were trained to detect early signs, and more than 30,000 babies have been observed at 12, 18 and 24 months of age.

From these developmental surveillance studies, OTARC has identified the early signs of Autism with an accuracy rate of 81% – the most accurate tool yet for early detection.

Previously, nurses used pencils and paper to record observations of the children. It was ultimately up to their judgement to decide whether a child was showing any signs and could be at risk of Autism.

Wojciech Nadachowski, Senior Advisor – Operations & Projects, OTARC, recommended that an application should be created on the Salesforce Platform for the nurses. “It started very simply; essentially just a series of questions. But its power lies in collecting data and generating records and reports of the children who are observed,” he explained.

“From simple beginnings, it has evolved very quickly. We have identified hundreds of families with a high likelihood, and we now need to maintain ongoing communications with these families. Salesforce enables us to do this very easily by adding tools from Sales Cloud and Marketing Cloud.

“If a child is identified at being at-risk, for example, an email is triggered to explain what the assessment means, and what the options are for parents.”

Indeed, the app for nurses proved so successful that Nadachowski soon asked, “How can we make this great early detection program available to children everywhere?”

Here’s how ASDetect works. It contains a number of questions, such as, ‘Does your child respond to their name?’ Each question has accompanying videos, showing typical and atypical behaviours at that age. Parents answer each question, and the results are sent straight through to OTARC.

Throughout, OTARC uses Salesforce to nurture parents on the journey and provide them with next steps. These include automatic emails upon completion of the stages of ASDetect, to guide them to the most appropriate next step. Then, if a child is identified as having a high likelihood, OTARC uses Salesforce to connect them with the support they need to navigate this difficult time.

Nadachowski is very excited about the possibilities for OTARC to build on this research and further support families affected by Autism.

“With Heroku and Salesforce, we have laid down a very sophisticated architecture. It will enable us to do so much more into the future – I can already visualise more apps that we can lay on top of what we’ve already done, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other research departments look to follow in our footsteps.”



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