Having worked with people with autism and their families to understand their priorities for funding and new research, Autistica, the UK autism research charity, are responding to their community’s call for better support to manage anxiety in Autism. Their overarching aim is to help build long, healthy, happy lives for every person with autism.
One of the top ten questions to emerge from their recent James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership (2016)1 was about interventions that could help reduce anxiety in people with autism. In 2008 a study by Emily Simonoff2 found that anxiety disorders affect 41.9% of autistic children, and whilst there are a broad range of self-help programmes and therapies for anxiety symptoms already available, these often require further research to ensure that they are appropriate to a person with autism’s needs1. Indeed, the need for interventions that have either been scientifically shown to work for people with Autism or adapted to address the specific needs of people with autism was the foremost concern of those involved in the Priority Setting Partnership1.
In order to try and meet this need, Autistica have partnered with Professor Emily Simonoff, Equaleyes, Zobi-Wan and a developer with Autism, from IT company Auticon to develop Molehill Mountain, a new smartphone app. The app, due for release this summer draws upon autism-specific research with the goal to help people with autism better come to understand and manage their own anxiety.
Molehill Mountain is one part of a digital learning package aimed at young people with Autism who struggle with anxiety. The package includes an email course, supporting web content and a community of peer support on social media, all intended to provide the user with the knowledge, confidence and skills to understand and self-manage the causes and symptoms of their own, very personal anxieties. It works by allowing the user to track their worries and how they are feeling through a quick daily check-in and activity, which then unlocks a daily tip about anxiety and autism. At each check-in the user can track their progress up Molehill Mountain and review their journey via a personal dashboard, the idea being that children with Autism can learn to identify the situations which trigger their anxiety and develop ways to respond.
Autistica have been developing the app with an insight team of young people with Autism who have shared their experiences of anxiety and apps in order to develop and test an app that is not just user-friendly, but also relevant, engaging and easy to use.
It remains to be seen how useful Molehill Mountain will be to help young people to manage their anxiety, Autistica will continue to carry out research into assessing the app’s impact once it is launched. There is a need for effective, evidence-based, autism-specific interventions and tools to help people with Autism and their families to deal with anxiety, 1,2; embracing tech could provide some accessible solutions.
For more information on Autistica and Molehill Mountain, please visit their website.
1 This PSP was a partnership of Autistica, The National Autistic Society, Autism Alliance and the Autism Research Trust: https://www.autistica.org.uk/downloads/files/Autism-Top-10-Your-Priorities-for-Autism-Research.pdf
2 Simonoff, E. et al., (2008) Psychiatric disorders in children with ASD: prevalence, comorbidity and associated factors in a population-derived sample. Journal of the American Academy of CaAP. 47, 8, 921.