Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Digital support can significantly reduce anxiety and self-injurious behaviour in autistic people

A digital self-management support tool has been shown to reduce anxiety, self-injurious behaviour and memory, orientation and communications problems in autistic people.

A study which assessed the efficacy of ‘Brain in Hand’ also found that the technology helped to participants increase confidence and feel a greater sense of self-awareness.

SEE ALSO: Free webinar: Neurodiversity in the workplace

What is Brain in Hand?

Brain in Hand is a digital system linked to human support, which helps to keep the day on track and make it easier to deal with unexpected events, manage anxiety, and make decisions.

The technology is easily accessible through a mobile phone, tablet or laptop via a website. It helps autistic people and people with learning disabilities to organise their day, set reminders and break down tasks into simple steps.

Users work with a specialist so that all the advice is in your own words, so that it is easy to understand and follow.

If users need immediate help with a task, they are able to alert a responder who will be able to help the user with whatever problem they are experiencing.

Problems with eating and drinking, and problems with relationships were significantly reduced

In a recent study conducted by CIDER (Cornwall Intellectual Disability Equitable Research) of Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust/University of Plymouth, researchers analysed whether the technology has a real-life impact on users.

The study included a cohort of autistic adults, or people on the waiting list for an autism assessment. Qualitative data was taken at the start of the study, and the participants were then followed up 12 weeks later.

By using the Health of the Nation Outcome Scales for people with Learning Disabilities (HoNOS-LD), the researchers were about to measure the impact of Brain in Hand on quality of life.

They found that self-injurious behaviour reduced from 1.30 at baseline to 0.58 on follow up, memory and orientation problems reduced from 0.88 to 0.47, and communication problems in understanding reduced from 1.00 to 0.39.

Problems with eating and drinking, and problems with relationships were also significantly reduced, and all participants in the qualitative study said they would recommend Brain in Hand based on their own experience.

Levelling the playing field

Professor Rohit Shankar MBE, FRCPsych, Consultant in Adult Developmental Neuropsychiatry (CFT), professor in neuropsychiatry, University of Plymouth, and director of CIDER, who led the study, said: “Autistic adults are a vulnerable population with significantly higher rates of psychological distress, higher levels of self-harm, and increased premature mortality. Yet these adverse health outcomes for a proportion of autistic people could be avoided through appropriate levels of preventive health care and support. I think it is especially promising to see that Brain in Hand helped to significantly reduce anxiety and risk of self-injurious behaviour for those who completed the study.

“If we are to level the playing field for autistic people, we need to consider these types of innovative approaches that inform, enable, and empower people to manage for themselves.”

Dr Louise Morpeth, CEO of Brain in Hand, described the study’s findings as “an exciting new development” that proves human-backed technology “can make a huge difference to autistic people”.

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