By Aparna Verma
Researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine recently developed a crowdsourcing tool to map locations across the globe where autism is prevalent. The tool, GapMap, aims to pinpoint which communities require more resources in order to diagnose and treat those with autism.
Recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that 1 out of 68 children have been diagnosed with autism. However, the CDC notes that diagnosing autism can be difficult because there is not a singular test which determines a positive diagnosis, and people with autism may present a variety of behavioral cues. Many people with autism may go undiagnosed for years, and GapMap hopes to help solve that.
An interactive site, GapMap uses information gathered from researchers and site users to map autism diagnostic centers. Researchers collected information from 840 autism treatment centers’ websites in the United States to create a geographic heat map. Visitors to the site can enter their ZIP code, gender, birth date and autism diagnosis into GapMap to see how many people within their community have been diagnosed with autism.
Findings from GapMap show that people living near autism diagnostic centers are more likely have been diagnosed with autism than those who live further away.
With this in mind, Dennis Wall, associate professor of pediatrics and biomedical data and senior author of a study that described the initial findings of GapMap, hopes to use the tool to indicate imbalances of resources between communities so that effective changes can be made in the healthcare system.
Ultimately, Wall’s goal is for all communities to have better access to resources surrounding autism diagnosis and services.
“Our findings highlight that there is an important unmet need with respect to individuals in resource-poor areas where there is a significant lack of autism services,” Wall told the Stanford School of Medicine. “As a consequence, we think they are getting diagnosed later and not reaching the care they need during the time when it matters most.”
GapMap found that 70 percent of people in the United States live within 30 miles of a diagnostic center, while people diagnosed with autism live on average 20 miles from a diagnostic center. Wall hopes that through crowdsourcing, GapMap can create a global map that can inform families about resources in their area as well as indicate areas in need of autism diagnostic resources.
“We really need to see where the imbalances are and how big they are as the first step to creating change in the health care system,” Wall said.
Contact Aparna Verma at averma2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.