Healthier Me: An App to Promote Health, Nutrition and Safety for Children with ASD

Friday, May 12, 2017: 10:00 AM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
J. Harris1 and A. P. Robertiello2, (1)Children's Specialized Hospital, Mountainside, NJ, (2)Autism, Children's Specialized Hospital, Mountainside, NJ

Behavioral and cognitive challenges experienced by people with ASD may impact personal hygiene, nutrition, fitness, health maintenance, and safety. Neglect of personal and oral hygiene, nutrition, and exercise may lead to infection, tooth decay and periodontal disease, obesity, hypertension, coronary disease, and other adverse health conditions. Indeed, the CDC reports that obesity is 50% more common among teens with developmental disabilities including ASD. In addition, behavioral and cognitive challenges associated with ASD may impact safety practices, leading to unintentional injury of self or others or loss of life. The Interactive Autism Network notes that approximately half of children with ASD over the age of four attempt to elope from a safe environment. More than one third of children with autism who wander or elope have significant challenges communicating their name, address, or phone number. This represents a significant public health concern among youth with ASD.


Aim 1: Develop technology to track, educate, and reinforce behaviors which promote health, good hygiene, nutrition, and safety for youth with ASD

Aim 2:Examine experiences of users of the technology developed in Aim 1.


Interviews were conducted with families, service providers, and other professionals in the field of ASD to determine needs, approach, and content to address daily hygiene, healthy eating, fitness, and safety concerns. Based on this primary input, a mobile app, “Healthier Me”, was developed, tied to delivery of personalized reinforcers with ability to track related behaviors and provide user-directed education. Healthier Me was developed to track hygiene habits; reinforce healthy food choices, drinking sufficient water, and avoidance of foods specified as allergic; track activities and time spent being physically active; and offer information about each “healthier” activity. Specific educational information related to safety and health maintenance is also provided on the app. People with ASD and/or their caregivers were recruited to download the app. Qualitative interviews were then conducted regarding the user experience.


Data derived from qualitative interviews will be reviewed in an iterative manner to develop common themes related to engagement and utility of the app.


The creation of the “Healthier Me” app is an innovative approach to meeting an unmet need – helping youth with autism learn and practice safe and healthy activities as a regular part of their lives. It can be used in multiple environments by the person with ASD and/or their various care providers to encourage good health, nutrition, fitness, and safety. User experience will provide pilot information regarding initial response to the app among stakeholders. Subsequent research will focus on both short-term and long-term effects of the use of the “Healthier Me” app on health status, personal hygiene, and safe behaviors of youth with ASD.