Couple create app for diagnosing autism

BOISE, Idaho – Robby Oberleitner was 18 months old when his parents noticed changes in his personality. By age 2, the boy wasn’t talking. He would cry and hurt himself.

What happened over the next year would inspire his parents, Ron and Sharon Oberleitner, to start a business they now operate from downtown Boise.

It was the mid-1990s when the Oberleitners, worried about their son, sought answers from doctors in the Dallas area, then in New Jersey. Finally, a specialist diagnosed 3-year-old Robby with autism.

“Diagnosis is the place to start, and with the diagnosis you, by and large, can get treatment,” Ron Oberleitner said.

But the delay in diagnosis meant 18 months of lost time when Robby could have benefited from therapy.

“It’s a crime not to help a family get a diagnosis so they can begin early intervention for their child, if they have instincts that something is going wrong,” Oberleitner said.

It occurred to the Oberleitners in the 1990s and early 2000s that the rapid exchange of video over the Internet, and increasing openness to telemedicine, could make it easier for families to get a diagnosis and early intervention for their children. Ron Oberleitner had spent much of his career working in technology product development and marketing products such as surgical instruments, and he had experience with training doctors over the Internet.

Parents could use iPads and iPhones to break free of long waiting lists for doctors and the uncertainty about whether a child would show autism symptoms during a one-hour office appointment.

The couple founded a business, now known as Behavior Imaging, that makes several products tailored to autism but which, Ron Oberleitner thinks, could also be used for disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Oberleitner worked with a number of colleagues and business partners, including his wife, to develop a remote autism-diagnosis tool called NODA, or naturalistic observation diagnostic assessment.

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