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Mobile device applications and treatment of autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of effectiveness
  1. Sun Jae Moon1,
  2. Jinseub Hwang2,
  3. Harrison Scott Hill3,
  4. Ryan Kervin4,
  5. Kirstin Brown Birtwell5,
  6. John Torous6,
  7. Christopher J. McDougle5,
  8. Jung Won Kim3
  1. 1 Ewha Women's University Mokdong Hospital, Seoul, Republic of Korea
  2. 2 Statistics, Daegu University, Gyeongsan, Republic of Korea
  3. 3 Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, USA
  4. 4 School of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, USA
  5. 5 Lurie Center for Autism; Massachusetts General Hospital; Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  6. 6 Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sun Jae Moon, Ewha Women's University Mokdong Hospital, Seoul 07985, Republic of Korea; sunjaemoon16{at}


Objective The current study was performed to assess the evidence for effects of therapeutic intervention with mobile device applications (apps) for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Design The main methodology of the current study was systematic review with meta-analysis.

Setting Only randomised controlled trials (RCTs) for mobile device apps for individuals with ASD were considered for review in the current study.

Patients The target population was individuals clinically diagnosed with ASD.

Interventions Applications that are operable on a smart (mobile) device and interactive with users.

Main outcome measures The main outcomes were based on standardised mean differences in pretrial and post-trial scales in each control and intervention group.

Results Out of a total of 1100 studies (after duplicate removal), 7 RCTs were selected for final analysis. Of the seven studies, two RCTs were further analysed for effects based on the visual and fine motor subscales of the Mullen Scales of Early Learning, which favoured the intervention groups (standardised mean difference (SMD)=0.41, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.80; SMD=0.41, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.80), without either having any heterogeneity (p>0.1) or publication bias.

Conclusions Although it is still early to draw a conclusion, available studies are showing promise for use of mobile device apps for treatment of individuals with ASD. More well-designed and large-scale studies focused on improving behavioural symptoms of ASD are warranted.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42019128362.

  • adolescent Health
  • autism
  • child psychiatry
  • evidence based medicine
  • information technology

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  • Contributors SJM, JH and JWK conceived of the study and played a major role in its design. All authors participated in collection, analysis or interpretation of data. JWK provided supervision throughout the project as senior author. All authors provided critical feedback and participated in drafting or revising the manuscript. Therefore, all authors agree with the author contribution as stated above, have had complete access to all data included in the study and are believed to meet the authorship criteria as provided by the journal.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

  • Author note JWK is senior author.