Interpretative. Intuitive. Inclusive

Innovations that can make healthcare more accessible for people with ASD.

You are often told to “listen to your body”— a simple suggestion that may not be as easy to implement; no matter how hard you may try, some cues are bound to go unheard. You may notice obvious symptoms like pain, a drop in energy levels, shortness of breath, or a feeling of unusual irritability, but you can’t be certain about what this means or whether you should be doing something about it.

When understanding your own body is so difficult for a neurotypical person, can you imagine how hard it can be to identify, report and act upon the body’s signals, for someone with a condition like Autism Spectrum Disorder that affects one’s ability to communicate?

What is autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a group of neurological and developmental disorders that affect how people communicate and interact socially. While the nature and degree of symptoms varies depending on where one is on the autism spectrum, by and large, those with autism are likely to have divergent ways of paying attention, processing information and responding to situations; this could make it harder for them to pick up on their body’s clues. Monitoring or detecting a health condition that relies on self-reported data could, therefore, be a challenge in the case of people with autism. Research suggests that even common healthcare scenarios, like setting up an appointment with a doctor, could compel people with autism to have a shutdown or a meltdown. They tend to get overwhelmed by sensory stimuli which can make it difficult for them to focus on conversations with healthcare professionals— because of this inability to communicate, they may be misunderstood or ignored. As a result, while people with autism are more likely to experience chronic mental and physical health conditions, they end up receiving poorer quality of healthcare, as compared to neurotypical people with diabetes.

How technology can make life easier for neurodiverse people

While the exact reason as to what causes autism or how it can be prevented is not fully known yet, what we do know is that globally, 1 in 100 children has autism. In India alone, it is estimated that approximately 18 million people are living with autism, and these numbers are only going to rise. There is no doubt that measures need to be taken to make healthcare more inclusive towards people with ASD. April is observed as World Autism Month with a view to raise awareness about ASD and empower the autism community. An important conversation in this regard is the role of technology as a beacon of hope, giving neurodiverse people the opportunity to achieve their best possible health. Innovations in MedTech have immense potential and could be life-changing in the care of neurodivergent people.

An example of this is remote monitoring devices that keep track of crucial health markers, and provide actionable insights about your cardiac health, not just to you, but also to your caregivers and healthcare providers, in real time. This technology can significantly reduce the need for frequent doctors’ consultations, hospital visits and social interaction, while keeping you connected with your healthcare providers and ensuring your safety— your doctor is alerted to any change in your data that may require intervention and can step in for timely intervention, only if and when needed.

Similarly, biowearables can improve the management of a condition like diabetes, which requires regular glucose monitoring. People with autism, who also have diabetes, are often averse to social touch and may view physical contact negatively. A sensor-based continuous glucose monitoring system that captures your health data painlessly and maps your glucose trends through the day and night, without needing a physical examination, laboratory test or social contact with a healthcare provider, can simplify life for people with ASD and bring immense relief to caregivers.

Managing a chronic health condition while living with a developmental disability can be an overwhelming experience. The evolution of health technology seeks to make healthcare not only more accessible, but also more inclusive, for people with atypical conditions and unique health needs. Technology stands as an effective interpreter in scenarios that pose barriers in communication, thus helping to alleviate, if not resolve, many of the issues encountered in the care of people with ASD. Health innovations are giving us a more intuitive understanding of our bodies, in a way that can empower neurodiverse individuals, too, to embark on a positive health journey.

Disclaimer: The information mentioned in this document is only suggestive /for patient education and shall not be considered as a substitute for doctor’s advice or recommendations from Abbott. Please consult your doctor for more information.