‘Autism & Beyond’: Screening for Autism with your iPhone®

Autism is a disorder that appears during the first three years of life and affects normal development of the brain’s social and communication skills.1 The exact causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are unknown, but research suggests that a combination of genes and environmental factors both play an important role.While we don’t know what causes ASD, we do know that it affects 1 in 68 children in the United States – a 30% increase from 2012 when it affected 1 in 88.3

Identifying Developmental Risks with an App

A team of researchers and software developers from Duke University and the Duke Medical Center recently launched a free iOS research app in an attempt to learn more about autism in young children across the globe.  The free app, called “Autism & Beyond”, can be downloaded from the Apple® App Store and was built with ResearchKit, a framework developed by Apple® that allows researchers to conduct global app-based studies.

Its intended purpose is to test new video technology as a reliable source for screening and analyzing children’s emotions and behavior.  The hope is that this tool will be used to screen young children in their homes for autism and that the data collected will provide feedback such as how to handle tantrums, anxiety, or even encourage families to seek further consultation from their health care providers.

It is important to note that this app is not an at-home diagnostic tool. 

How It Works

This 6 month study is designed for children between the ages of one and six years old and incorporates two types of activities.  The first being four short videos that the child watches and the second being short surveys that the parent would complete about her/himself and the child.

The videos are designed to make the child smile, laugh, and be surprised.  While watching the videos, the “selfie” camera on the iPhone®/iPad® records the child’s reactions to the displayed content.  Analytical software in the app automatically notes key markers on the child’s face and evaluates their emotional responses and head position.

The data captured by the app is then uploaded to secure servers at Duke University (with permission from the user) and is analyzed by the team.  Users also have the option to share only the facial features of their children, not the actual video itself.

For more information on the Autism & Beyond study, read this article in DukeTODAY.

 What Else is Duke Doing?

‘Autism & Beyond’ isn’t the only research Duke is working on.  ViaCord is proud to support an ongoing FDA approved clinical research trial at Duke University that is designed to better understand the complexity of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This is a Phase I trial evaluating the safety of infusing patients diagnosed with ASD with their own cord blood stem cells.  For more information and study details, click here.  



  1. Pub Med Health, “Autism: Pervasive developmental disorder – autism”; Autistic spectrum disorder. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth /PMH0002494/
  2. National Institute of Mental Health: What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder? http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml
  3. Press Release: CDC estimates 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, Thursday March 27th 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0327-autism-spectrum-disorder.html

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