WATCH: Pinoys invent app to help kids with autism

Named Emerald District, the app aims to bridge health practitioners and people with autism

Screenshot from Rappler

Screenshot from Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – A group of 5 Filipinos from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) has developed an application that aims to transform manual mental health record-keeping into an online-friendly platform.

The Emerald District app aims to bridge health practitioners and people with autism through a platform that uses features for effective communication and record-keeping.

“We felt that there is a problem then we saw an opportunity,” said Nesty Tumbaga, Emerald District co-founder.

The team saw that paper notebooks can get damaged and misplaced, and with then, the history and data, leaving people back to square one in keeping tabs.

“As we’re in a digital era, we asked ourselves, ‘Why not use technological tools at hand, such as analytics and instant messaging to help people that are left behind in this fast-paced world?’” Tumbaga said,

The app made the team one of the winners of Rappler’s Hack Society 2018.

A prototype

Currently on its development stages, the app is easy to use. Users may upload and store files of the patient in one tab, communicate through an instant messaging function, and download and play additional games and books designed for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

These features allow healthcare providers to easily track progress since information can be recorded on the app. (READ: How inclusion empowers artists with autism)

To counter the simple problem that goes with record-keeping, Emerald District grounded the application on providing an inventory for quantitative and qualitative data of kids with autism.

The team is looking into reinforcing data privacy for an end-to-end protection of users’ personal details.

But forming a secure data-driven system remains a challenge for the team, such as a shortage of occupational therapists in the Philippines, among other limitations.

Possible barriers

EMERALD DISTRICT. Henry Lachica (left) and Nesty Tumbaga (right) present their idea for Rappler's #HackSociety 2018. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

EMERALD DISTRICT. Henry Lachica (left) and Nesty Tumbaga (right) present their idea for Rappler’s #HackSociety 2018. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

Christian Benedict Tayag, in charge of Emerald District’s Sales and Marketing department and a practicing occupational therapist, shared how the application can also help qualified practitioners working in marginalized communities and faraway provinces.

“We’re not so many occupational therapists and speech pathologists; most of us are concentrated in Metro Manila,” Tayag said. “That’s why the app in itself can give you access from those communities [and enjoy] the luxury Metro Manila has.”

DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo says they are still waiting for the results of lab tests to confirm if the patient has the viral respiratory disease

Tayag added that team discussions usually boil down to their next steps in creating a sustainable program that can also help people with other developmental conditions. (READ: Amid challenges, artists with special needs shine)

“To those that are less fortunate and facing other developmental conditions, we’re already thinking about how we can increase access to the program,” Tayag said.

In order to gain ground in regions with disenfranchised families and people with autism (PwA), engagement with local governments and hospitals is a tough, but a key first step.

“There [has] to be institutional partnerships. The app alone can’t solve directly these kinds of problems. It’s more of a secondary thing,” said Tayag.

Staying close to the roots

The application is hoped to launch late 2019, and to be available both on smartphones and desktops. The method of purchasing the product is still being discussed as the team looks for stakeholders and investors in 2019 to sustain its efforts.

For the team, the roadmap is not fixed. Emerald District is “constantly evolving” to see how to improve mental health sensitivity across the board.

“Probably after 5 years, we will be discovering that those disenfranchised people don’t need the program but something else. We’re very open to and will keep looking for solutions in this space,” Tumbaga said.

As they work on refining the application, Chua said the team focuses on the two things that matter: their motivation and values. (READ: A PWID’s success story: Angelo Jardeleza in his workplace)

“Everyone needs to think about what motivated them to start this and keep at it, because with that, we can further expand avenues to [marginalized] communities,” added Chua.

Chua attached his personal experience with persons with autism to the project, pushing the team to get the ball rolling.

“I have a brother who has autism…. My way of helping him and everyone with disabilities is to address how we should best meet their needs,” Chua said.

Chua added that families who have members with autism need all the support they can get, inspired by his mother’s longstanding worries for his younger brother.

“It was always up to my mom to archive all the information about my brother’s condition, even though my brother has been to 3 to 4 Sped (Special Education) schools and consulted many doctors,” Chua said.

Through their win in #HackSociety 2018  an ideathon organized by Rappler, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Citibank – the team was able to cement their vision to amplify collaboration between health practitioners and persons with autism. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Why is it important to #HackSociety)

“I want this available for everyone who has autism so that the doctor, the teacher, and the parent can communicate to further enhance development process of the child or the person with autism,” said Chua. –

Fatima Qureshi is a Rappler intern and a full-time student pursuing a Master’s in Journalism degree at the University of Hong Kong.

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