CHOP researchers evaluated a digital medicine tool designed as an investigational treatment for young children with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Can a video game-based ‘digital medicine’ help young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and co-occurring attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Well, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), USA, have evaluated the feasibility, safety and benefit potential of their project, EVO Platform, which delivers sensory and motor stimuli through an action video game experience, designed by Akili Interactive, a prescription digital medicine company.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder in young children
Roughly 50% of children with ASD have some ADHD symptoms, with an estimated 30% receiving a secondary diagnosis of ADHD.
However, since medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are less effective in young children with both disorders than in those with only ADHD, scientists are exploring alternative treatment options.
Children with ASD and ADHD symptoms are also at high risk for impaired cognitive function, including the brain’s ability to maintain attention and focus on goals while ignoring distractions.
As young children reach school age and beyond, these cognitive impairments make it more difficult for them to set and achieve goals, as well as successfully navigate the demands of day-to-day life in the community.
Benjamin Yerys, Ph.D., a child psychologist at CHOP’s Center for Autism Research (CAR) explains: “Our study showed that children engaged with the Project: EVO treatment for the recommended amount of time, and that parents and children reported high rates of satisfaction with the treatment.”
“Based on the promising study results, we look forward to continuing to evaluate the potential for Project: EVO as a new treatment option for children with ASD and ADHD.”
Testing the digital medicine tool on young children
Participants in the study were given either the Project: EVO treatment, which is delivered via a digital medicine action video game experience, or an educational activity involving pattern recognition.
The primary outcome measure for efficacy was the TOVA API, an FDA-cleared objective measure of attention. Key secondary outcome measures were caregiver reports of ADHD symptoms and the ability of the child to plan and complete tasks, as well as a cognitive test battery assessing working memory.
How effective was digital medicine?
Both parents and children reported that the treatment had value for improving a child’s ability to pay attention and served as a worthwhile approach for treatment.
The study discovered children to adhere to the treatment protocol by engaging with the treatment for 95% or more of the recommended treatment sessions.
The study also found that after using Project: EVO, young children showed a trend toward improved attention on the TOVA API score, and they showed general attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptom improvement based on parent reports.
Although the sample size of the study was small, the study demonstrated that using digital medicine within the project was feasible and acceptable with potentially therapeutic effects. Therefore, the research team is planning a larger follow-up study for continued evaluation of the potential of the project’s efficacy.