Autistic people need an extra dosage of understanding from their caretakers. Nonetheless, the occasional outburst of aggressive behavior can never be predicted by anyone, no matter the level of understanding. To help people take better care of autistic people, Northeastern scientist Matthew
Goodwin has created a wearable wrist device which monitors the physiological indicators of stress. The one-minute head-start which the caretakers will get from this device may make all the difference for the right reasons.
For people with autism, very little things could make them aggressive in a small period of time because their resting level of stress is much higher than people without autism. According to Goodwin, an associate professor with joint appointments in Bouvé College of Health Sciences and the Khoury College of Computer and Sciences, “Their arousal levels are already at the ceiling. It takes very little to cross the tipping point.” What makes this more difficult is the fact that autistic people have trouble communicating what is distressing them. If the caretaker is given a headstart in trying to identify the source of distress and is alerted before the aggression surfaces, it would prove to be very helpful.
“If we could give caregivers advance notice, it would prevent them from getting caught off guard and potentially allow them to relax the individual and make sure everyone in the environment is safe.” - Goodwin
The device monitors heart rate, sweat productions, skin surface temperature, and arm movements to identify aggression ahead of its surfacing with 84% accuracy. Goodwin and his team observed 20 children over the course of 87 hours to track each episode of aggressive behavior and the corresponding physiological traits. The information gathered was synchronized with a clock in the biosensors worn by the children.
Even though it is a step forward to helping kids with autism, this method is not entirely fool-proof. As is the case with any scientific innovation, we can only hope that the technology would get smarter with time, and help us in more ways than one. Imposed restriction on the autistic children due to the sudden outbursts of anger can certainly lessen now.
Goodwin will expand this research to 240 autistic individuals with the funding from the Department of Defense, the Simons Foundation and the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation.