Using mobile health technology to assess childhood autism in low-resource community settings in India: an innovation to address the detection gap

Indu Dubey, Rahul Bishain, Jayashree Dasgupta, Supriya Bhavnani, Matthew K. Belmonte, Teodora Gliga, Debarati Mukherjee, Georgia Lockwood Estrin, Mark H. Johnson, Sharat Chandran, Vikram Patel, Sheffali Gulati, Gauri Divan, Bhismadev Chakrabarti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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A diagnosis of autism typically depends on clinical assessments by highly-trained professionals. This high resource demand poses a challenge in low-resource settings. Digital assessment of neurodevelopmental symptoms by non-specialists provides a potential avenue to address this challenge. In this study, we provide the proof of principle for such a digital assessment, with a cross-sectional case control field study using mixed methods. We developed and tested an app, START, that can assess autism phenotypic domains (social, sensory, motor) through child performance and parent reports. N=131 children (2-7 years old; 48 autistic, 43 intellectually disabled, and 40 non-autistic typically developing) from low-resource settings in India were assessed using START in home settings by non-specialist health workers. The two groups of children with neurodevelopmental disorders manifested lower social preference, higher sensory sensitivity, and lower fine-motor accuracy compared to their typically developing counterparts. Machine-learning analysis combining all START-derived measures demonstrated 78% classification accuracy for the three groups. Qualitative analysis of the interviews with health workers and families of the participants demonstrated high acceptability and feasibility of the app. These results provide feasibility, acceptability, and proof of principle for START, and demonstrate the potential of a scalable, mobile tool for assessing neurodevelopmental conditions in low-resource settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755-769
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Early online date17 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • Autism
  • LMIC
  • digital health
  • global

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