A company based at the University of Exeter's Innovation Centre has developed smart-phone technology to support people with Asperger's Syndrome in their day-to-day living.
Brain-in-Hand, which was established by Andrew Stamp, has pioneered a 'traffic light' system which links users via their smart phone to a central server, which acts as a first port of call in situations where help or reassurance is needed.
Users who can become unsettled or anxious by a break or change to their daily routine, can tap into the system for guidance or immediate back-up.
When a user accesses the system, they are asked to record their anxiety levels using the simple traffic light system. Depending upon their stress levels, users are then directed to the action plan evolved to handle such a situation, or to a support worker if immediate one-on-one assistance is needed.
Also a useful tool to support people with brain injuries, Brain-In-Hand is based upon "activity mapping", where users, supported by a mentor, develop their own bespoke solutions to problems they may encounter that disrupt their regular routine.
For example, action plans could be devised to come into play in the event of a missed bus. Pre-ordained alternative solutions such as taking a taxi, or calling a friend, can help offset rising panic triggered in the heat of the moment by such events.
Such "prompts" are entered into a secure website, which synchs with the user's smartphone. The system also keeps a record of decisions taken, helping users and support workers to pinpoint the areas of most difficulty and develop further ways of managing them in the future.
The Devon Partnership NHS Trust, which co-ordinates mental health and learning disability services for the county, is now officially deploying the Brain-in-Hand, following a successful 12-month trial.
The app is also being taken up by two currently undisclosed NHS trusts in other areas of the UK and by a "number" of mainstream secondary schools in Devon and beyond that support students with Aspergers.
Mr Stamp, who was formerly a senior manager with ICI, has extensive experience in industry of the implementation of people-based systems, as well as managing an intervention programme for his son Alexander, who has autism.
He drew on the expertise of clinical psychologists to develop the Brain-in-Hand programme and relocated the business to the Innovation Centre in 2010, where it currently employs a team of four staff. Mr Stamp said: "Use of the smartphone technology makes use of the system unobtrusive and this can help to take away some of the stigma that still surrounds some of these conditions.
"No one gives a person using a smartphone a second glance – and this removes one layer of anxiety for the individual concerned."