Using Technology to Help Autistic Children

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Julie Kientz

Julie Kientz

Julie Kientz is a computer scientist but she is not your usual computer geek. In fact, you will rarely find her in front of a computer. For Julie Kientz, the computer is a simply a tool to help her accomplish her primary mission in life—helping families with autistic children.

Kientz’s devotion to assisting children with autism began in graduate school. While pursuing her doctorate in computer sciences, Kientz spent a year and a half working as a therapist to gain a better understanding of the issues facing families with autistic children and their healthcare providers. By first understanding the issues involved with autism, Kientz was better able to innovate the technological solutions. As a therapist, she observed that the ability to see potential improvement in a child’s development was hampered by the paper-based recording system used by therapists. One child might have several therapists, all recording their assessment sessions on pages of paper kept in a binder. There was no way to gauge the child’s progress across the various therapists’ testing styles. It could be that the child was actually progressing. So Kientz developed a digital recording pen to be used with special paper that would turn the therapists’ writing into a digitized format. This computerized tool would not change the atmosphere in the room, leaving the child undisturbed. The notes would automatically enter a computer database and become synchronized with the video recordings of the sessions. Now, when the therapists would meet to discuss cases, they had a comprehensive record of all the assessment sessions providing a much improved way to detect actual improvement in the child’s development.

Another innovation of Julie Kientz is a computer program called, “Baby Steps,” that helps parents detect autism or delayed development at an earlier age. Baby Steps was designed to resemble the typical baby book that parents use to record milestones in their child’s life, such as photos, trips, visits with grandparents, etc. But the Baby Step book added other milestones such as turning the head, making eye contact, responding to noise, etc. Realizing that some families do not have computers at home, but have access to the internet via their mobile device, Kientz modified Baby Steps to work with Twitter. The family receives a Twitter message asking for a certain question as to the child’s development and they “tweet” their response.

Named among the “35 Innovators under 35” in the 2013 MIT Technology Review, Julie Keintz’s passion for helping families dealing with autism is certain to keep her in the spotlight of creative innovations in healthcare related technologies.