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Tech firm aims to revolutionise autism support

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A UK health tech company has received £800,000 in NHS-backed funding to develop its digital self-management approach to support services for autistic people, both pre- and post-diagnosis.

Brain in Hand, has received a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) Healthcare award, funded by NHS England & NHS Improvement.

The firm aims to transform the model of care for autistic people through “user-led self-management”.

Following a first-phase feasibility fund awarded in 2019, this phase two funding will help to increase access to its combined digital and human based self-directed support services.

It will allow Brain in Hand to continue to advance the product’s capabilities, while also funding clinical and health economic impact research.

Autism reportedly costs the UK £32bn a year, more than cancer, heart disease and stroke combined, yet 71% of autistic adults are not getting the support they require.

With over 700,000 autistic people in the UK and nine-month waiting lists, there could be over 30,000 new referrals for diagnosis in the first three quarters in 2021 alone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the unmet needs, having a negative impact on the ability to access support services, leaving many stranded or relying on families for support.

Dr Louise Morpeth, CEO of Brain in Hand, says: “We are over the moon to be SBRI grantees and to have the opportunity to demonstrate the value of our system for autistic people. We are grateful to our partners for joining us on this exciting project, and especially pleased to be waving the flag for the south west! The pandemic has shown that it is time to embrace the potential of technology to support those who are so often excluded or overlooked. We look forward to seeing digital health solutions take their proper place in the continuum of care.”

The SBRI award will partly be used to test the product with 100 autistic adults.

Connor Ward, autistic advocate and influencer, and independent advisor to Brain in Hand for the SBRI application, says: “I wanted to support Brain in Hand as it has huge potential. With this funding it will become a proactive customisable support system that people will be able to access from the start, when they need it.

“Technology has played a massive part in offering autistic people greater independence and Brain in Hand’s unique and personalised approach will help users in their moments of stress and uncertainty. The autism spectrum is so wide that no one tool will be able to help everyone, however this service will develop and grow with each user, which is truly revolutionary.”

As part of the award, Brain in Hand is working with Dr Rohit Shankar MBE, who will lead the study with the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and University of Exeter into the system’s functionality, testing the second-generation version with 100 autistic UK adults.

He says: “We owe autistic people necessary tools and support to ensure they gain and maintain independence and to improve their quality of life in the challenging world we live in. The financial costs and lack of resource to support autistic people are significant and interventions that will aim to reduce this is extremely valuable.

“We face many challenges with mental health services in the NHS and must provide different types of access and support, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, where services are reduced and access is limited, compounding the difficulties that these individuals face. Autistic people due to their neurodiversity have higher incidence and prevalence of mental health concerns. Therefore, there is even more urgency to provide an effective, technologically advanced and cost-effective solution that can be quickly implemented, like Brain in Hand.”

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