App helps parents, caregivers better track autism tantrums

MONTEVIDEO, 9 Nov 2019: 

A new smartphone app developed by students at Montevideo-based Universidad ORT Uruguay aims to help parents identify the causes of their autistic children’s highly disruptive behaviour.

When the autistic child has a meltdown (defined by UK’s National Autistic Society as “an intense response to overwhelming situations”), an individual who observes it can use the app to keep a record of possible causes and how the outburst was manifested – so this information can be centralised and shown to parents or therapists, co-developer Juan Drets said in an interview.

Once a sufficient volume of information has been collected, the long-term goal is to use “data science” to discover certain patterns and determine why these meltdowns happen, Drets said.

The developers’ goal is for the Berrinche (Tantrum) app to be downloaded by as many people as possible – from family members to classmates – as a means of obtaining more personalized information and further broadening the circle of care.

The idea for this app originated at the Campus Party 2019, a technology event that was hosted by Universidad ORT Uruguay and attended by Drets and fellow systems engineering student Maria Victoria Martinez.

They took part there in a programming event, or “hackathon,” on inclusive apps sponsored by the Telefonica-Movistar Foundation and met people from Aprendizaje Diferente (Apdif), a Montevideo-based organisation which had already created other apps to help children who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The two university students said they have always been very drawn to the use of technology for social purposes, particularly Drets, whose mother has worked for years with disabled persons.

He said many family members of autistic children are unsure of how to assess a problem or what procedures to follow and precautions to take.

Even though one of every 160 children worldwide has an ASD, according to the World Health Organisation, Drets said society generally provides little help to caregivers.

Berrinche has been downloaded 500 times in the month since it became available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

During that time, its creators have received frequent messages from users who either express their thanks, ask questions or make suggestions.

The initial idea, according to Martinez, was to develop a program that would be used with a smart bracelet and identify when meltdowns occur.

But after speaking with people from Apdif, the developers decided to create this information management app for families, saying the tool is the first of its kind worldwide.

Two versions of Berrinche are available – one that is free of charge and another that is fee-based, which has expanded functionalities such as the option to automatically notify parents when a meltdown occurs.

Drets said his intention “is not to get disabled people up to speed with the rest” but on the contrary to “bring the remainder of the people closer to disabled persons” and put themselves in their place.

Besides working on updates for the app, Martinez said she and her business partner are adding an additional tool that allows the family to provide access to this information to the therapist, who can both receive data and add it to the child’s profile.

They also are inviting clinics, sports clubs and other institutions to collaborate with the project so users can gain free access to the app’s premium version.

In addition, the developers say they will be presenting their project to the National Research and Innovation Agency of Uruguay with a view to securing more financing and adding more functions to the app.