Telethon Kids Institute Research Results

Grant Derepasnews

TOBY is proud to release the results of a 2-year national study conducted by The Telethon Kids Institute alongside La Trobe, Monash and Deakin Universities.

TOBY Playpad Trial – Therapy Outcomes By You, an autism early intervention trial

Chief Investigators: Prof Andrew Whitehouse (Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, Dr Angelika Anderson (Monash University), Prof Dennis Moore (Monash University).

Development:  The TOBY app was initially developed as a collaboration between Curtin and Deakin Universities and Autism West.

Overview: This randomised single-blind multisite parallel-groups trial tested the efficacy of the TOBY (Therapy Outcomes By You) app to improve autism-related symptoms in young children recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). TOBY provides an app-based dynamic learning curriculum designed for children and parents to use as a complement to early behavioural intervention.

Participants and Recruitment: Participants were children aged between 3-5 years recruited in the first twelve months after receiving a diagnosis of ASD. Families were randomised to receive the TOBY intervention or were allocated to standard care (‘therapy as usual’).

Families receiving the intervention arm attended an educational workshop about the app and were contacted fortnightly to monitor progress. Outcomes were assessed at baseline, 3 months and 6 months and included parental competence and empowerment in delivering the intervention, as well as changes on diagnostic, cognitive, and language based assessments.

Trial: The trial was conducted over two recruitment sites: Western Australia (Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia) and Victoria (La Trobe, Monash and Deakin Universities.

Between January 2013 and January 2015, 80 children were randomised to receive either the TOBY app (at least 20 minutes per day, plus treatment as usual) or treatment as usual (TAU) for six months.

Results: Two measures showed significant improvements between groups and from baseline. On the Mullen Scales of Early Learning, a measure of developmental ability, a significant difference between TOBY and TAU groups emerged for the Visual Reception and Fine Motor subscales at the three and six month periods, respectively. The Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales, a parent-reported measure of adaptive real world functioning, showed a similar pattern of increased scores between the TOBY and the TAU groups at the three-month time point.

Qualitative data indicated 74.5% of parents felt moderately or in full control over their child’s early intervention therapy and learning through the use of the TOBY app.

Summary: The results indicate that use of the TOBY app should be considered a useful complement to existing community therapy to supplement the development of overall adaptive functioning, as well as visual reception and fine motor skills.