M. Dinesh Varma

It is based on a computational questionnaire matrix

Software allows even uninitiated to do a preliminary disability screening

A parent using it can be reassured child is attaining development milestones

CHENNAI: Now, a software matrix of 48 questions can perhaps give you vital leads on a pervasive development disorder like autism more quickly than a year or two of clinician visits.

The Automated Software Screener for developmental disorders, developed by a Chennai-based engineer-doctor team, is based on a computational questionnaire matrix that can be used as a pre-clinical tool to evaluate whether a child’s development milestones are age-appropriate.

“We initially set out with a questionnaire of around 200 enquiries. The subsequent pruning based on inputs from experts has helped make the matrix more reliable and sensitive,” said Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan, computer science expert, who developed the software along with young general physician Karthik Srinivasan.

The computer scientist and medical practitioner had come together to contribute to a social cause by floating Brahmam, a forum aiming to develop technological aids for physically challenged people, that eventually led to the creation of the software.

The software framework of the screener comprises an automated screener system, a report generator system and gaming techniques (which are being fine tuned). Based on the responses given by the primary care taker, the screener evaluates the child in the areas of fine and gross motor, social and language.

At the end of the screener sessions — a typical session takes no more than 25 minutes — the screener will send a comprehensive report stating whether the child demonstrates any symptoms for developmental disorders or not.

The software developers propose to dedicate the software tool free of cost to schools across Tamil Nadu some time next month.

The software’s value lies in the accessibility it provides for rural areas and the simplicity that can guide even the uninitiated to do a preliminary disability screening.

“Importantly, even a lay parent using the software can now be reassured that the child is attaining the development milestones,” said Jaya Krishnaswamy, director of the Madhuram Narayanan Centre (MNC) for Exceptional Children, which played a key role in field testing the tool.

Schools are an ideal starting point for implementing the software-based screening model, said Mr. Sampathkumar. If trained, teachers will be able to shortlist children suspected of a development delay and refer them for evaluation by an expert clinician.

“We are thinking of making the software available across the country once the piloting in Tamil Nadu is successful,” said Mr. Sampathkumar.

The screener has already proved to be a reliable index of disability from trials involving disability experts and expert clinicians, and won awards and accolades at several international forums.

It has also won for Mr. Sampathkumar the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)’s Regional Activities Board (RAB) GOLD Achievement award and the IEEE Asia pacific GOLD award for 2007.

According to the software developers, a multi-lingual version of the screener is under development.

In conjunction with the launch of the software next month, it is also proposed to open a web portal where parents can access the screener to make a preliminary assessment for childhood development delays.