Steven Bedrick

Mobile and online consumer tools to screen for autism do not promote equity

Benjamin W Sanders, Steven Bedrick, Sarabeth Broder-Fingert, Shannon A Brown, Jill K Dolata, Eric Fombonne, Julie A Reeder, Luis Andres Rivas Vazquez, Plyce Fuchu, Yesenia Morales, Katharine E Zuckerman
Autism, Jan 2023


Limited access to screening and evaluation for autism spectrum disorder in children is a major barrier to improving outcomes for marginalized families. To identify and evaluate available digital autism spectrum disorder screening resources, we simulated web and mobile app searches by a parent concerned about their child's likelihood of autism spectrum disorder. Included digital autism spectrum disorder screening tools (a) were on Internet or mobile app; (b) were in English; (c) had a parent user inputting data; (d) assigned likelihood category to child <9 years; and (e) screened for autism spectrum disorder. Ten search terms, developed using Google Search and parent panel recommendations, were used to search web and app tools in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Australia, and Canada using Virtual Private Networks. Results were examined for attributes likely to benefit parents in marginalized communities, such as ease of searching, language versions, and reading level. The four terms most likely to identify any tools were ``autism quiz,'' ``autism screening tool,'' ``does my child have autism,'' and ``autism toddler.'' Three out of five searches contained autism spectrum disorder screening tools, as did one of 10 links or apps. Searches identified a total of 1475 websites and 919 apps, which yielded 23 unique tools. Most tools required continuous Internet access or offered only English, and many had high reading levels. In conclusion, screening tools are available, but they are not easily found. Barriers include inaccessibility to parents with limited literacy or limited English proficiency, and frequent encounters with games, advertisements, and user fees.Lay AbstractMany parents wonder if their child might have autism. Many parents use their smartphones to answer health questions. We asked, ``How easy or hard is it for parents to use their smartphones to find `tools' to test their child for signs of autism?'' After doing pretend parent searches, we found that only one in 10 search results were tools to test children for autism. These tools were not designed for parents who have low income or other challenges such as low literacy skills, low English proficiency, or not being tech-savvy.

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