Imagine providing parents with an app that enables them to upload videos of their children, analyzed by computers applying algorithms to diagnose autism earlier in their development than currently possible.
Imagine equipping autistic individuals with smart glasses that whisper instructions for navigating social situations in the user’s ear.
Imagine two-foot-tall humanoid robots that could serve as therapists for use in treating children with autism.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has made all this possible today. AI, equipped with machine learning, is improving constantly, and is positioned to become a critical adjunct to the human element in the diagnosis and treatment of autism. The operational and clinical advantages these advances convey are creating added value propositions for those enterprises that embrace it.
AI Disruptors in Other Industries
The ground for these paradigm-shifting advances has been well-trod in other industries. Consider how Waze disrupted the navigation business less than a decade ago. When other mapping apps stumbled to diagnose traffic jams and redirect travelers, Waze crowd-sourced traffic reports and provided real-time data about traffic incidents, speed limits, speed traps, and other valuable trip information to navigate the fastest possible route. As a result, the navigation app captured market share from Google, Mapquest, and other providers, with 25.6 million monthly users by 2018.
Waze has exploited that unique value add by establishing a ride share component that allows users to find, connect and ride together at a fraction of the cost of Uber and Lyft, themselves industry disruptors. Waze is also being accessed by governments and researchers seeking real-time data collected by its users. In Israel, researchers are asking Waze users to report roadkill, so they can track animal collisions and reroute animal movements to avoid them. The city of Hampton Roads, VA is mining Waze traffic data to determine where flooding is most acute as they develop their flood maps.
The Story of AI in Autism Services
The frame-breaking opportunities are similarly ripe in the autism services industry. The platform created by Cognoa, a Palo Alto-based pediatric behavioral health program, uses machine learning and predictive analytics to analyze parent input of behavioral information to diagnose autism earlier. This allows intervention and customized education to begin in the critical early years of a child’s brain development.
Another AI solution developed by Brain Power, helps autistic individuals manage their emotions with a wearable digital coach that recognizes social situations and guides the user towards appropriate responses. This facilitates increased functional independence, also enabling some to interact more effectively in a standard workplace setting.
Monitors and wearable devices can also deliver a plethora of health, activity, and geographic information about clients in real time. With some analysis, staff could correlate patient meltdowns with changes in physiological ratios such as a spike in blood sugar levels, increased heart rate and sweating.
As an example, for individuals whose sugar intake is correlated with aggression, making dietary changes and collaborating with parents to monitor sugar and carbohydrate intake could reduce the frequency of outbursts and the required interventions, and would improve client outcomes and quality of life.
AI’s Impact Is Clinical and Operational
The business imperative for artificial intelligence covers the operational aspects of the autism services business as well. Employing this new business intelligence would enable service providers to tackle issues such as scheduling in a more targeted manner. If traffic on Friday afternoons in one location is causing sessions to start late, for example, modifications can be made to maximize session time.
This avoids the current practice of implementing policy and process changes across the board that may have negative impacts on service delivery in a different location where Friday afternoon traffic is not an issue. It is an ongoing process: continuing use of these tools could help determine which modifications were working and whether they were creating cancellation bulges elsewhere in the schedule.
The artificial intelligence that drives these revelations is the business imperative of the future of autism services, if not the present. It will eventually be a normal part of every autism service enterprise, as it already is in many industries. The early adopters will exploit a market inefficiency to deliver services that their competitors lack.