Background: There is a broad scientific consensus that early and intensive behavioral intervention has the greatest chance of positive impact on an individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, the availability, quality, and general funding for early intervention programs is often lacking, leaving newly diagnosed children without adequate and sufficient therapy during the most critical early period of their development. Parent-administered iPad-assisted therapy has the potential to reduce the gap between the amount of therapy recommended for children with ASD and the amount they receive. However it is unclear at what age children with ASD are capable of being fully engaged in the process, and whether parents can administer such therapy. The objective of this study was to determine whether children as young as two who have been diagnosed with ASD could engage on a daily basis and over an extended period of time with a therapeutic application, and whether their parents would be willing to administer such an application. Methods and Findings: We developed a tablet-based therapeutic application and conducted a study of 823 children to determine whether children as young as two years of age could engage for an extended period of time with tablet-based cognitive exercises administered by their parents. In this manuscript, we describe data from the feasibility study of this therapeutic intervention. We report that the majority of children are able to understand and use the application as intended over the course of months, and that two-year-old children with ASD performed as well as older children in a multitude of measurements. In addition, we report that many parents are willing and able to administer such therapy over an extended period of time and many believe that the product has potential for improving their child’s ASD symptoms. Conclusions: This data confirm that tablet-based cognitive exercises can be administered by parents to children as young as two years of age over the course of months. Additional research is needed to gauge the feasibility of using a therapeutic application over a longer period of time, as it is likely to take years for any positive therapeutic effects to become evident.
Rita Dunn, Jonah Elgart, Lisa Lokshina, Alexander Faisman, Maria Waslick, Yuriy Gankin and Andrey Vyshedskiy
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