People on the autism spectrum may be unable to verbalise anxiety and distress. Meltdowns can seem to come from nowhere – a constant challenge for care givers.
Scientists in the US have shown that changes in body signals may be able to predict rapid mood changes before they happen. Care givers can monitor tiny changes and head off potential crises.
Heart rate, Surface skin temperature, Sweating at the surface of the skin, 3-dimensional limb movements (repetitive movements like flapping can indicate stress)
Biometric wristbands look a little like Fitbits. They’re lightweight and unobtrusive and when their sensors rest against your skin they measure minute physiological changes such as surface skin temperature, heart rate and sweating. They also measure three-dimensional limb movements.
They can be worn by people with autism who may be non-verbal or unable to communicate how they feel. Realtime readings from the wristband – which can be displayed on handheld devices – help carers identify periods of high anxiety, enabling them to step in and head off any dramatic behaviour changes.
We can work with non-linguistic autistic people to help establish what reduces their base level of anxiety and use the technology to identify the causes of increased anxiety. We can identify what causes sleep disturbance (a common feature in autism). We can assess each individual’s needs, head off challenging behaviours and ensure they have the best quality of life possible.
Biometrics in the field of autism has been studied over the last decade by a team of US scientists from Boston’s Northeastern University, Maine Medical Centre and the University of Pittsburgh. Having developed biometric wristbands, they then collected thousands of examples of challenging behavior from 20 young people with autism.
Northeastern University’s Dr Matthew Goodwin said, “Our original concept with biometrics was that we couldn’t bring people with autism into the lab, so we would take the lab to the world in order to learn about autistic behaviour.”
The scientists have established that the minute body signals collected through biometrics can predict sometimes violent behavioural changes up to a full minute before they actually happen.