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Study protocol for an evaluation of ASDetect - A Mobile application for the early detection of autism

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posted on 2022-03-28, 03:58 authored by Josephine BarbaroJosephine Barbaro, Maya YaariMaya Yaari
Background: Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) can be reliably diagnosed by 24 months of age. However, despite the well-known benefits of early intervention, there is still a research-practice gap in the timely identification of ASC, particularly in low-resourced settings. The Social Attention and Communication Surveillance (SACS) tool, which assesses behavioural markers of autism between 12 to 24 months of age, has been implemented in Maternal and Child Health (MCH) settings, with excellent psychometric properties. ASDetect is a free mobile application based on the SACS, which is designed to meet the need for an effective, evidence-based tool for parents, to learn about children's early social-communication development and assess their child's 'likelihood' for ASC. Study aims: The primary aim of this study is to evaluate the psychometric properties of ASDetect in the early detection of children with ASC. A secondary aim is to assess ASDetect's acceptability and parental user experience with the application. Methods: Families are recruited to download the application and participate in the study via social media, health professionals (e.g., MCH nurses, paediatricians) and word of mouth. All participating caregivers complete a demographic questionnaire, survey regarding their user experience, and the Social Responsiveness Scale-2 (SRS-2), an autism screening questionnaire; they are also invited to participate in focus groups. Children identified at 'high likelihood' for ASC based on the ASDetect results, the SRS-2 or parental and/or professional concerns undergo a formal, gold-standard, diagnostic assessment. Receiver Operating Characteristic analyses will be used to assess psychometric properties of ASDetect. Thematic analyses will be used to explore themes arising in the focus groups to provide insights regarding user experiences with the app. Multiple regression analyses will be carried out to determine the extent to which demographic factors, parental stress and beliefs on health surveillance and child results on ASDetect are associated with the parental user-experience of the application. Discussion: With a strong evidence-base and global access, ASDetect has the potential to empower parents by providing them with knowledge of their child's social-communication development, validating and reassuring any parental concerns, and supporting them in communicating with other health professionals, ultimately enhancing child and family outcomes and well-being.


The study was funded by a LTU School of Psychology and Public Health grant (JB) and a LTU Building Healthy Communities Research Focus Area grant (JB). MY was funded by the Hebrew University Postdoctoral Scholarship for Women and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) Scholarship (50/18). The funding bodies of the evaluation study are not involved in the design of the study; collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; and in writing the manuscript. ASDetect was built between 2015 and 16 by Salesforce through their 1-1-1 Philanthropic model (, in collaboration with OTARC. The development of this app is independent from this evaluation study, and Salesforce and OTARC do not receive any royalties or commercial revenue from ASDetect.


Publication Date



BMC Pediatrics





Article Number





Springer Nature



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© The Author(s). 2020 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.