Two New Brunswick newspapers, the Daily Gleaner and the Telegraph Journal, have published lengthy promotional features on Autism Pro, the internet software "solution" developed by New Brunswick Speech Language Pathologist Cynthia Howroyd. AutismPro is internet based software that purports to design individualized education programs for autistic children. "When subscribers sign up, the program asks them questions. "The software analyzes the answers and creates an intervention program out of its database," said Howroyd.
The Daily Gleaner article, "Capital keeps rolling in for autism software", featured an interview with Thomas Hayes, president and CEO of GrowthWorks Atlantic Venture Fund, who said he has a lot of faith in the company's product. The Venture Fund manager was very honest about his interest in the product: "As you learn more about autism and its growing prevalence and how expensive it is for kids with autism to be treated, how difficult it is to get access to treatment in certain jurisdictions ... we looked at it as a huge market opportunity, frankly," Hayes said.The "innovative use of technology and a huge potential market" sealed the deal, he said.
As a parent of a profoundly autistic child I have always been doubtful about the premise of Autism Pro. I had the opportunity, as a member of autism organizations in New Brunswick to review the concept behind the program several years ago and still have many questions about the program, notwithstanding the money making opportunities which Mr. Hayes find so exciting.
Environment. Children with autism are often very sensitive to different elements in their environment. It is often necessary to look at all the factors present in that environment to understand what might be impeding - or helping - in a particular case. Solving issues confronting autistic children is very much a hands on challenge.
Therapeutic Basis of Autism Pro Issues surrounding the effectiveness of specific autism therapies are often controversial. TO DATE, only Applied Behavior Analysis, ABA, enjoys a wide base of support as an evidence based effective intervention for autism. Yet, to my knowledge, having met with Ms. Howroyd several times and having reviewed her public comments and literature on many occasions, Autism Pro has very little ABA basis and primarily features therapies which do not enjoy a consensus of professional support as effective evidence based interventions.
Accountability Who will be held accountable if use of the program is followed by regression or the development of new problems? Apparently Ms. Howroyd's Company will offer return of purchase money if purchasers are not satisfied with the product but will they be liable to compensate purchasers for any damage or harm caused to an autistic child if the application of Autism Pro results in setbacks?
Lack of Regulatory Oversight. Who in public authority will be exercising oversight of the application of Autism Pro in jurisdictions around the world?
Ms. Howroyd's company has been very skilled and aggressive in seeking financial support. When public funding initiatives for autism interventions are offered, from New Brunswick to Ottawa, Autism Pro has been there. Business, as Mr. Hayes pointed out, sees a huge market opportunity. Governments, hard pressed by demands for government provision of autism services, and attracted by the glamor of internet techonology, will be interested in Autism Pro as an easy fix. But will Autism Pro serve the best interests of autistic children?