5 startups that are helping children with autism
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Photo Credit: Snug Vest, a vest that helps children with autism

One in 68 kids is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Here are five companies that want to help kids overcome these challenges and reach their potential

The incidence of autism is on the rise, with one in 68 children in the United States now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. In fact, this rise has disproportionately affected the tech community, with rates of the disorder in high tech cities up to four times higher than elsewhere. Given this situation, what solutions are on the horizon to help ASD kids? Here are five promising startups and research projects that could help these kids reach their potential.

1. Snug Vest

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Photo Credit: Snug Vest

If you’ve ever swaddled a baby to calm them down, you understand what Deep Pressure Therapy is. Apply surface pressure to the body, thereby generating the feeling of a hug, is a proven, effective way to calm the sensory systems of children and adults with autism and sensory processing disorder.

For children with autism, the pressure can relieve tantrums, prevent self-injury and relieve stimming (repetitive self-stimulation) behaviors.

Lisa Frasier, an industrial designer who spent eight years working with special needs kids, launched the product Snug Vest in 2013. Her company, Wearable Therapeutics, was listed as a 2015 Emerging Rocket for life sciences startups in British Columbia, Canada with enormous growth potential.

The vest is stylish and unobtrusive. You can fill it with air to apply just the right amount of pressure. Be aware that smaller children will need help inflating it.

2. Independence Day Clothing

Children with autism are four times more likely to wander off than neuro typical kids. A parent can look away for a moment and suddenly their child is not there. Combined with a lower awareness of danger, such wanderings can end in tragedy.

Independence Day Clothing is a line of clothing for autistic children that is not only comfortable and easy to put on and take off, but each clothing item is equipped with a small GPS device. Parents can locate their kids with a smartphone before they wander too far.

3. MSSNG

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Photo Credit: MSSNG

No one knows what causes autism, although a new study points to genetics as the overwhelming factor.

MSSNG is a joint project by Google and advocacy organization Autism Speaks. The idea is to develop the world’s largest database of sequenced genomic information of people on the autism spectrum along with their families.

The data would be stored in an open cloud database, allowing scientists worldwide to collaborate and share their findings. Hopefully, once the genetic underpinnings of the disorder are better understood, scientists can develop better tools for diagnosis and treatment.

The goal is to sequence the entire genomes of at least 10,000 people.

“Millions of people living with autism today need answers,” says Autism Speaks President Liz Feld. “The MSSNG project is the search for those answers, and we’re going to find them. The best research minds in the world are going to mine this database of DNA so we can uncover and understand the various subtypes of autism. Then we can get to work developing customized treatments and therapies so we can improve the quality of life for so many people who need help.”

4. Brain Power

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Photo Credit: Brain Power

A Cambridge, MA startup called Brain Power develops Google apps geared towards children with autism. Founded by neuroscientist Ned T. Sahin, the apps are still in Beta and being tested in conjunction with Harvard Medical School.

Using Google Glass, Brain Power can assess how often kids with autism make eye contact or engage in stimming behavior. The app then encourages kids to make eye contact with their parents by making it into a game.

Sahin has described iPads as a “double-edged sword” for kids with autism because they need to interact more with the real world, not technology.

5. Apple, with iPad apps

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Photo Credit: Apple

Even though autistic kids ultimately are best served learning how to interact with people, not machines, tablet apps can be helpful when used in moderation.

A third of autistic children still struggle with speaking at age 5. A study led by Dr. Helen Tager-Flusberg performed at Boston University shows that tablets can help these children learn new words. In a study of 61 kids aged 5 to 8, those who received iPads in addition to speech therapy acquired double the amount of new vocabulary.

This research corroborates the moving account in the New York Times in which a  mother described how Siri, by interacting with her autistic son in a way he could understand, actually helped him acquire social skills.

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Simona Weinglass

About Simona Weinglass


I’m an old-school journalist who recently decided to pivot into high-tech. I work in high-tech marketing as well as print and broadcast media covering politics, business culture and everything in between.

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