An app detects signs of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, our expert’s opinion

An app detects signs of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, our expert's opinion

DYS disorders, ADHD, autism… many neurodevelopmental disorders are still too often diagnosed late in children. An app would help things move forward. Decryption.

Although the arrival of a child is a wonderful experience, entering into parenthood is not always easy. 2 out of 5 French people believe that it is “difficult” to become a parent. If the support of loved ones is obviously crucial, in this emotional storm, certain tools, designed by parenting professionals, promise to “make everyday life easier” for young parents. This is the case of the Malo application, downloadable online since July 2021, which allows you to monitor your child’s development – and detect potential disorders in time.

Detect possible neurodevelopmental disorders very early

Faced with the many questions that parenthood raises (why doesn’t my child speak yet? Why is he apart from the others at daycare?) the application allows us to provide the first elements of answers – and to alert parents – if “something is wrong”.

The objective of this 2.0 tool is to provide parents with insight into what they observe in their child (thanks to the use of questionnaires), helping them to verify the absence of anomalies in the development of the child, but also by reassuring them in their observation if necessary, in order to direct them towards a specialized consultation.

The application helps parents ask the right questions every month and provides them with personalized medical advice, thus avoiding drowning them in a mass of unnecessary information. Health monitoring in Malo is not only for the child but also for the parent (identification of postpartum depression for example). It comforts the parent in their daily observations of the child’s development and awakening. Which allows parents to gain confidence in their parenting“, underlines Madhu Desbois, general manager at Malo.

Far from claiming to replace the doctor or pediatrician, the application presents itself as a complement, which helps in the diagnosis of pathologies that are still insufficiently detected.

This is particularly the case for possible neurodevelopmental disorders: the tool can detect several of them, based on parents’ observations. Autism spectrum disorders can thus be detected early, as can “Dys” disorders.

A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, conducted with 4,242 children, demonstrates that, among children monitored by the application, screening for an autism spectrum disorder is detectable at a median age of 11 months in the general population (since then, the questionnaires have been enriched with items proposed from the age of 6 months), while this pathology is rarely confirmed before 4 years.

Faced with the use of this diagnostic tool, Laure Legardinier, child psychiatrist, invites us to take some precautions.

The same semeiological presentation can reveal different clinical pictures. For example, a depressed baby may present a pseudo-autistic picture. All of us clinicians have experienced these situations and the management and prognosis are completely different. It seems to me that there is a risk here in making a wrong diagnosis and using poor therapeutic strategies, not to mention the anxiety aroused in parents. The Malo model seems not to take into account the emotional and relational sphere which, however, is inseparable from the child’s development.“, she reveals, while emphasizing the potential”deleterious effects of overdiagnosis and overmedicalization in children“.

In this sense, the expert recalls that the algorithm cannot evaluate everything (the subject’s surrounding environment, its history, its evolution and its emotions, etc.) and that human observation cannot be replaced.

Point on which, the application is intended to be rather clear: “whatever the nature of the alerts emanating from the questionnaires, no diagnosis is ever made“.

The child’s attending physician and/or pediatrician always remains the point of contact.

How does the app work?

The application can be installed as soon as the child is born. General questionnaires, covering diet, sleep, wakefulness and motor skills, are sent to parents.

The questionnaires are offered again in the months that follow – every month until 9 months, then every 2 months from 1 year old, then every quarter from the child’s 3rd birthday.

If an alert appears in a domain, the same question will be asked again the following month to confirm the relevance of this alert. The first time, the parent is not informed – things often go back to normal – but he will be informed if the alert is repeated, especially if another alert is triggered in the same area.