UI startup hopes to make therapy more accessible for kids with autism

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A biomedical engineering student and a computer science student at the University of Iowa have a way to easily support kids with autism.

The medium is something many kids on the spectrum love to engage with - smart screens like phones or tablets. Shamus Roeder knows the social challenges people with autism often face. He has cousins who live with the disorder.

"I'm hoping that finances, location, and luck no longer factor in to whether or not someone affected with autism can go out and have the best opportunity for success," said Roeder, a co-founder of ABAL Therapeutics.

That's why he and classmate Logan Grote launched ABAL Therapeutics.

"That will allow them to automate a lot of the redundant aspects, the repetitive aspects of this therapy so they can treat more kids, get back to what they're good at doing so more kids can get access and more families can afford it," said Grote, a co-founder of ABAL Therapeutics.

Applied behavior analysis therapy is time consuming and insurance doesn't always cover the treatment, but anyone with a tablet or phone can access the software. It focuses on helping the kids make eye contact or saying something to unlock the device. Dr. Emily Boshkoff at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics said the idea has potential.

"I think it's a great idea for increasing access," said Dr. Boshkoff.

But she said the screen can't replace human social interaction.

"Research is telling us that the app alone usually isn't sufficient enough to make progress. It requires backup essentially from an adult, a parent or a therapist to work with the child," said Dr. Boshkoff.

ABAL Therapeutics is in it's early stages and the cost for users isn't known yet, but Shamus says this tool could be a game changer.

"We can get them help and we can get the ball rolling to live a more full and successful life," said Roeder.

ABAL Therapeutics is looking for families with autistic kids to try the software. For more information, go here or email team@abaltherapeutics.com.