NEW YORK, May 8, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge), a national online autism research initiative, today announced the Community Award winner of its national mobile app contest, Lecture Buddy, created by Arthur De Araujo, an undergraduate at University of Buffalo. SPARK launched the contest in partnership with Pace University's Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems to invite high school and college student mobile app developers to design innovative new tools for individuals and families impacted by autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
"SPARK launched this contest because we were excited about the potential of mobile app technology to help families in the autism community who face certain challenges," says Dr. Alex Lash, chief informatics officer at SPARK's parent organization, the Simons Foundation. "The community award winner, Lecture Buddy, is a great example of how insights on ways to support people with autism can come straight from young people in the community."
Lecture Buddy is an iOS app designed to aid students who require different ways of learning to take notes and study lecture material. It transcribes recorded audio into text, automatically highlighting sentences containing customizable keywords such as "important" and "remember," for example. It then saves highlighted transcriptions in appropriately labeled folders. For some students with autism and other students who may struggle with learning, Lecture Buddy could help improve productivity and make lectures and studying more user-friendly.
"I created Lecture Buddy because I saw a substantial lack in education software to make learning easier for students. This app would be ideal for students whose experience of autism manifests through learning challenges, or anyone who struggles with study tactics," said De Araujo, who is pursuing a B.S. in computer science.
While not all people on the autism spectrum have learning disabilities, streamlining the learning process could be beneficial to many, including neurotypical students.
SPARK's Innovation Is Benefiting the Autism Community
SPARK is building an innovative online research community to speed up understanding of autism. SPARK's goal is to recruit 50,000 individuals with autism and their family members in a long-term research study. One of SPARK's goals is to define the genetic contributions to autism. The study also engages in community-based activities including the mobile app contest, educational webinars and more to benefit the ASD community every day.
"As a geneticist and pediatrician, parents of individuals with ASD ask me 'why' questions all the time," says Dr. Wendy Chung, principal investigator of SPARK. "As we try to answer those questions through SPARK's contribution to research, we also want to tackle some 'how' questions, like how to help families affected by autism live their fullest possible lives. SPARK is excited about the potential for Lecture Buddy and other mobile apps to do that."
First Round App Winners: Design, Prototype and Ready-to-Use Categories
The mobile app contest considered entries from high school and college students across the United States. In the first round of the contest, students submitted apps in three categories: design, prototype and production (ready-to-use). A panel of SPARK judges, experts in both creating mobile apps and autism, selected winners in each of these categories. In the second round (the community contest), all of the ready-to-use apps were put up to a vote by the entire SPARK community. Over 1,100 people voted, with Lecture Buddy emerging victorious.
The winner in the first-round design category, an app called EmpQuest, could facilitate the job application process for an individual with autism by turning it into an engaging game. The EmpQuest team is made up of Brooklyn high school students who are part of the program Tech Kids Unlimited, which teaches technology to those who think differently, including students with autism, learning and emotional challenges.
The winner in the prototype category, Inquisitor, was created by a team of high school students from the Houston area. The app would allow personal journal entries to be shared securely with parents, caregivers and clinicians.
The production-level winner, Serene Emotional Suite – which was also eligible for the community award vote – pairs with a wearable device (like a smartwatch) to track data like heart rate and set up alerts based on that data. For example, if the wearer's heart rate exceeded a certain level, the app would register it, and the data could be shared with a caregiver. This app was created by a high school student from Silicon Valley.
Mobile Apps for ASD Fill a Need
A SPARK study conducted last year found that just 18 percent of parents of individuals with ASD currently use mobile apps geared toward the autism community, but 74 percent of parents would be willing to spend several minutes a day using a mobile app if the app could help them visualize trends in their child's behavior over time, for example.
"Mobile apps that provide utility to the autism community can meet significant needs for individuals with ASD and their families and, if designed properly and scientifically evaluated, have the potential to enhance the autism research that SPARK and other organizations fund. The technology behind Lecture Buddy and the rest of the contest entries are an excellent first step to these ends," says Dr. Lash.
To learn more about SPARK or enroll in the study you can visit the initiative's website at SPARKforAutism.org. To view all the winners and more contest information visit contest.sparkforautism.org. Photos of the winning individuals and teams are available upon request.
Autism is an umbrella term used to describe a group of behavioral conditions — autism spectrum disorders. These conditions are characterized by challenges in social communication (both verbal and nonverbal) and repetitive behaviors or restricted interests. An estimated one in 59 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. The wide range of autism manifestations makes it challenging to study potential causes or treatments, and thus a large cohort that can be segmented — genetically and by the condition's manifestation — can substantially advance such efforts.
About Pace University's Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems:
Founded in 1983, the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University is the country's third-oldest dedicated school of computer science and information systems. It offers academic programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level in topics including computer science, information systems, software engineering, telecommunications, and enterprise analytics. The Seidenberg School has run the #WestchesterSmart Mobile App Development Bowl for three years, which has drawn hundreds of contestants who compete to build mobile apps for aging populations.
Contact: Amy Lebowitz, Health Unlimited for SPARK
SOURCE SPARK for Autism