Biometric wristbands that can predict outbursts in people with autism

Wristbands that measure heart rate and surface skin temperature could transform the lives of people with autism by predicting big behavioural shifts.

Biometric wristbands that can predict dramatic behaviour changes and “see inside” the bodies of people with autism  could be commercially available within 2 to 5 years.

Dr Matthew Goodwin, an expert on wearable bio sensors in autistic patients, claims that the ability to measure minute physiological changes such as heart rate and surface skin temperature could transform the lives of people with autism.

Together with his team at Boston’s Northeastern University, Dr Goodwin is working with a lightweight wristband, similar to a watch, which measures 4 physiological signals – surface skin temperature, heart rate, three dimensional movements of the limb that is wearing the sensor and sweating.

The team is also exploring ways to stream information from wristbands live to mobile phones, via an app. This would enable a family member, friend or teacher to closely monitor the person they are caring for.

People with severe autism, who are often unable to communicate through words or body language, are apt to dramatic behavioural changes that include aggression, self injury and running away.

Through 10 years of research in America, Dr Goodwin with his team have established that body signals may be able to predict these sometimes violent changes before they happen, giving carers the opportunity to take appropriate action.

“The autistic children we’re working with can’t tell us what’s going on. They can’t say they have a headache, or ‘I don’t like this teacher’ or ‘it’s too loud in here’ ,” he said.

“If we want to understand them, we need to look at what their body is telling us – and we need to do this in a gentle, unobtrusive way.”

For instance, a simple visualisation of colours in an app could denote the level of agitation – blue could be used to denote under-arousal, allowing a carer to understand when the person is bored and lacking stimulation and red could be used as a warning of behavioural change.

Data from the wristbands could also be collected over time and saved on a secure server, allowing carers to understand the bigger picture of how the person responds to different situations, and to understand what interventions work best.

“I need to be clear that we are not reading minds. Bio sensors aren’t magic – they still need a human to interpret them.”

The research has been welcomed by Jane Carolan, director of client services at Wirral Autistic Society.

“When you work with people with severe autism, as we do, you see the dramatic difference that assistive technology can make to their quality of life. iPad apps are now, literally, giving a voice to people who have never spoken. Robots are helping autistic children learn to play peek-a-boo. Who knows where this innovation may lead us,” she said.

“Assistive technologies can be truly life-changing and we feel it is part of our mission as an autism charity to ensure everyone has access this information and is part of the debate about how we want to support people with autism in the future.”

source: The telegraph