|I met Freena in Cambridge, when she |
came to speak to Simon Baron Cohen
In January 2012 I met via Twitter a fantastic young woman called Freena Eijffinger from Holland who developed an app to help identify autism in 1h… not 7 years!
Freena was really frustrated it took doctors in Holland 7 years to diagnose her brother’s autism – being an innovative and entrepreneurial woman, she got off her back side and decided to do something about it! She didn’t try to change the health system in Holland, instead Freena used her skills - programming computers, to solve a frustration felt by her whole family – identifying autism!
She realised it was difficult for doctors to identify her brother’s autism for two key reasons:
|Freena decided to develop an app to help identify autism|
- one – every time he was tested he kept copying other people’s behaviour so he appeared he was fine and
- two - for every different test he was seeing a new doctor, so the pattern of “copied” behaviour went unnoticed.
They developed 4 apps to help identify autism which they tested on 300 children:
- one app measures TOM (Theory of Mind) and encompasses stories with questions and answers. Through this they measure reaction time, motor skills, motion; whether the answer is right or wrong and if a child can view things from someone else's perspective (a key issue for people with autism).
- one app measures the participant’s ability to feel emotions, their response to pictures and questions. Through this they measure reaction time, whether the answer is right or wrong and why.
- one app measures perception bias by showing pictures with questions. Through this they measure reaction time and the way a child can emphasize with another person.
- one app measures collaboration skills, through a specific protocol of collaborative drawing.
|One test measures collaboration skills,|
through a drawing exercise
When I met Freena, she was in Cambridge at a seminar with Simon Baron-Cohen (who is well known for developing the theory that autism is an extreme form of the "male brain"). He was particularly impressed that her team tested this new app with so many children (over 300), as usually not many parents agree to have their children part of autism tests.
How does this test help identify autism, comparing to the other tests?
This test is a tool which can help identify in only 1 hour if someone is more likely to have autism than someone who may not! This is a huge step forward in the diagnosis process, keeping in mind it took doctors 7 years to get a diagnostic for Freena’s brother, because getting the first few symptoms right is often the hardest job!
When taking the test, the doctor can observe the patient’s reactions and behaviour towards the various situations the test poses. The computer records all of the answers, so the doctor is not distracted by writing down answers to questions, like in the regular autism tests.
|This tool helps identify in 1h if |
someone may have autism
|They won 2 innovation prizes at the|
Rabobank Herman Wijffels Awards
For this app, Freena and her team won two innovation prizes at the Rabobank Herman Wijffels Innovation Awards in the Netherlands. Out of 470 applicants, she was the only female in the top 10 and won two out of the five prizes up for grabs, worth €15,000. I look forward to May 2012 when we find out if the Dutch Government validates this new app for mainstream use in the Dutch health system and perhaps later in the whole world!