SAP deploys child development, autism diagnosis app to employees

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Enterprise software publisher SAP is offering its employees an AI-powered app that can help them identify and record developmental delays that could lead to a diagnosis of autism.

The app, available on iOS and Android, is available from Cognoa, a digital behavioral health company based in Palo Alto, California. It will be offered to more than 19,000 SAP employees in North America starting this month. The app allows parents to track and record their child’s developmental milestones, and if a risk of a developmental delay is found, the app provides information and resources to help them work with their pediatrician.

After downloading the Cognoa app, SAP employees with children — optimally younger than 4 — create a profile of their child and answer a series of questions about their behavior. The app’s machine-learning algorithms will determine whether or not the child is hitting certain developmental milestones.

(Children with developmental delays that often lead to a diagnosis of autism usually engage in repetitive hand motions, rock their body back and forth, fail to make eye contact or acknowledge an adult in the room, and often do not speak or babble in a manner appropriate to their age.)

See also: More employers pursuing autism benefits

The Cognoa child development app then assesses the risk of a developmental delay and recommends a course of action for engaging with the child’s pediatrician.

Parents or caregivers also can record one- to two-minute videos of their child’s behavior — such as a tantrum or repetitive physical routines — and a team of trained Cognoa child development experts will view and rate the child’s behavior for a possible autism diagnosis.

Recording a child in the home by a parent can offer a true, more intimate sense of the child’s behaviors, which can often change once they enter a doctor’s examination room, says Cognoa CEO Brent Vaughan.

“If we can pick up some of the behavior of the child playing in their natural environment, which is very different for how children interact when they first walk into a doctor’s office, our machine learning algorithms can take the information provided by the parent and we have a scorecard that is filled out by analysts [as they] look at these videos,” Vaughan says.

While these behaviors can be obvious, they can often be difficult for a parent to explain and a doctor to understand.

Cognoa’s machine-learning algorithms have been “validated and evolved across multiple clinical studies with leading children's hospitals,” Vaughan says. He adds that the company’s experts can provide a risk assessment for developmental delays similar to autism, and independent of the risk level, “we identify any areas where the child and parent might have some work to do.”

“We can tell the parent: ‘here are the specific areas where you could work with your child to help them,’” he says.

The Cognoa app offering is an offshoot of SAP’s Autism at Work program that addresses the needs of SAP employees who have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

“For the past year and a half, there’s been a strong focus for us around mental health and wellness and what it means to offer rewards that reach a person fully,” says Jason Russell, total rewards director, SAP North America. “We are looking at benefits that are not just work-related, but on the family side of things.

“One of the things we learned through Cognoa and Autism at Work is there is a shortage of experts in the field and just getting an appointment can take months,” Russell says. “In certain markets, this can be a huge aid for a parent.”

Russell declined to predict how many SAP employees would respond to using this app but says the company plans to promote the service via e-mails, webinars and in-house seminars. He predicts “really high engagement.”

“A stressed-out employee is going to be an employee that is not highly engaged. You just can’t cope with stress and be at your A game,” he says.

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