For the staff at Heartspring, a center for children with special needs, a new iPod Touch app is helping to lessen the time inputting behavior data and increasing time with students.
Theres not really a lot of other people out there doing anything similar to this, said Riley Dutton, director of technology development, who developed the app in-house. Ive seen some people have the same idea but not taken it to the same degree as we have where they have hundreds of people taking data throughout the day and it all gets aggregated back together for all of the professional staff.
Heartspring mostly works with children who have severe autism and other mental disabilities at its 37-acre facility at 8700 East 29th Street North. Most of the about 50 students live on the campus and come to Heartspring from around the country.
Dubbed the Heartspring Technology Project, the app works to better track individual students behaviors and monitor their mental and physical health. With the touch of a screen, staff can tap on the listed behavior at the time of its occurrence, allowing for real-time data to be tracked. Staff can also customize the listed behaviors they want to track for students, like if students hit themselves or dont follow instructions.
Staff can then look at the data as graphs to see trends and use it to make changes to the environment to try to prevent the behavior from happening in the future. The app includes individualized schedules which can be especially important to people with autism medication records, alerts for when medication should be taken and records of any changes to the students care.
With the old paper system, psychologists and paraprofessionals would fill out 21 pages per student per week of reports that had penciled tally marks of student behavior that were recorded every hour of the day and night. The staff would then spend about 30 hours per week inputting the data into the computer valuable time that can now be spent with the students. It would then take up to three weeks for comprehensive data to reach the staff.
Dutton started developing the app using HTML5 about nine months ago. The app is accessible within the organization through Apples enterprise development program, but Heartspring hopes to commercialize it for other special education groups that seek to better monitor and collect data. It is currently patent-pending.
We want this to benefit as many people as it possibly can, Dutton said. So if this is something that we can turn into a product that people out there could pay enough money to sustain, then I think we would be interested in doing that.
Having the data allows for the staff to carry out data-based decision making, which is less subjective and more objective, said Wayne Piersel, director of psychology.
Any time youre trying to make a decision about a persons life, the more objective, current information you can have, the better your decision will be and more confidence youll have in the decision, Piersel said. Plus, along with that, youll be better able to monitor the effects of that decision. It takes out the realm of personal opinion.
But Piersel admits that the sheer amount of data can be overwhelming. Within the past three months since beta testing began, the system has received more than 3 million data points for the roughly 50 students who attend Heartspring.
Although he doesnt have empirical data to prove the new app has improved their care, he thinks that it has by allowing the staff to spend more time with students.
It has made information on students very immediately available, within a matter of minutes, Piersel said. Its into a system where we can go back to the day the student was admitted to now, and we could plot a graph to follow aggression or destruction to property or a number of times they bang their head on the floor, whatever the behavior were tracking is. We track lots of behaviors.
Dutton thinks the data Heartspring is collecting could be valuable to researchers.
I think this is probably one of the largest data sets that probably ever been collected on this level of detail on this population anywhere, Dutton said.
Usually when universities work with this kind of a population, if they do at all, they are relying on a third party like a clinic to take data on paper and give it to them, whereas we have literally second by second data of every behavior that has happened with every student.
Ive got to believe that theres a research person out there somewhere that would love to get their hands on that and take a look at what it actually means and see what we could do with it.