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Is your baby healthy? Israeli profs’ site has answers based on fact, not rumor

Worried parents who fear their children are not meeting developmental milestones now have a crowdsourced solution

Illustrative photo of babies at the Bikur Holim Hospital in Jerusalem (Flash90)
Illustrative photo of babies at the Bikur Holim Hospital in Jerusalem (Flash90)

In the new town square of the Internet, facts and rumor meld into an ongoing stream of passing information that is mostly forgotten almost as soon as it presents itself.

That rumor-addled fact stream is usually innocuous — except when it comes to things that are really important, such as matters of health, and, for parents, information on child development. There are thousands of parenting blogs, many with contradictory information — and no way for parents to verify which information is correct.

To help parents get the facts — and beat the rumors — a new site focuses on issues such as whether there is a need to worry if a nine-month-old isn’t walking yet, the best way to get a kid to sit on the potty, and the million-and-one other questions parents have.

Ayelet and Eli Ben-Sasson, a married couple who are parents themselves, have developed an online community where parents can share information about their child’s development — and compare that information to the actual scientific and medical facts relating to specific issues.

The site, called CROINC (CROwd-based INteractive Clustering), meets parents’ needs in a supportive community where they can instantly obtain relevant and specific information in accordance with the individual developmental profile of their children from birth to age six,” the Ben-Sassons said.

Eli Ben-Sasson is a professor in the computer science department at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology and is responsible for the programming and database side of the project, using his considerable experience and knowledge in big data and algorithm design. Ayelet Ben-Sasson is a professor in the department of occupational therapy at the University of Haifa and an expert on early-childhood development. Pooling their skills, the couple developed CROINC, to help parents get the real story about how their children are growing.

“The website enables parents to create a personal developmental diary for their baby, including milestones about their motor, communication, and social skills,” said Ayelet Ben-Sasson. “The system gives parents information about future milestones, so that they can help their child advance towards these goals and understand their baby’s behavior from a developmental standpoint. Research shows that early diagnosis and treatment of developmental problems leads to significantly better outcomes, because of the increased brain plasticity of young children.”

The website enables parents to build a personal developmental diary for their baby. Once the diary is created, it provides parents with processed statistical information about their child’s rate of development compared with the “typical” rate of development, based on information entered by other parents. The crowdsourced information provides a real-life database of knowledge parents can use as a quantified aggregate against which to measure their children’s progress.

All the information is measured against known scientific and medical data, in order to “ground” the data and ensure that parents get the real story about how their children are doing.

Personal data — names, addresses, etc. — are never displayed, but milestones and information on children’s behavior and activity is, allowing parents to compare their experiences with that of others. If a question arises, the parent community is there to answer it — with the answer provided based not on “I heard from someone who knows someone,” but on actual experience, as well as medical fact, as vetted by the Ben-Sassons.

The site was built by Eden Sayag and Matan Yechieli, programmers who are currently completing their undergraduate degrees in computer science at the Technion. Users are supported by Yael Schwartz-Klein, an early-childhood therapist at Haifa University.

Currently, baby.croinc.org has more than 300 members worldwide, and is looking to increase its user base; a larger user base means improved data accuracy, which benefits every user of the system, explained the Ben-Sassons.

“The advantage of crowd wisdom is especially great when you’re dealing with complex phenomena,” said Eli Ben-Sasson, “and early-childhood development is as complex, mysterious and important as it gets. Our website is a collaborative platform where parents play the dual role of ‘clients’ and ‘service providers.’

“We do not presume to replace pediatricians or well-baby clinics,” continued Ben-Sasson, “but rather to create a dynamic database containing essential information that will be available to all parents who need it. Those parents who want to learn more should simply register and try it out.”

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