Join the autism research team

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Reports regarding Duke University’s debut of its Autism & Beyond mobile app keyed on the app’s potential to help to identify autism in a child earlier than it otherwise might be discovered. Absent from these reports is perhaps the most meaningful benefit of the app: the collection of data from app users that could help lead to a better understanding of the disease and treatment.

“Unless parents participate in this type of research, we won’t get anywhere,” says Dan Smith, who is vice president of innovative technologies for Autism Speaks. He says the app has the potential to pave the way to a vast collection of research that couldn’t be accumulated through conventional means.

Dr. David Agus, who is a professor of medicine and engineering at University of Southern California, says, “Data allow us to—what we call ‘fine grain’—really fine tune our interactions.

“Trying to use tools to help with [data collection] can be very powerful,” he continues.

In his new book, “The Lucky Years: How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health,” Agus discusses tools that are like the Autism & Beyond app, such as an app that uploads ultrasounds to determine exactly when a woman will give birth.

Agus says this technology can bring information to you.

“The power of the Duke University app, as I understand it, is it really is a democratization tool,” he says. “You don’t have to live in a city with the best experts in autism spectrum.”

The hope, Agus says, is that enough data are collected from apps like these to have an effect. “One of the most exciting things about this new era of technology is that we all have the potential of not being part of the problem but of the solution.”

The Autism & Beyond app is available for free at the Apple App Store for use on iOS devices.