Researchers Develop Wristwatch That Predicts Aggressive Outbursts in People With Autism

A new wristwatch is able to predict outbursts of aggression in people with autism, detecting signs of stress by monitoring heart rate, skin temperature, sweating, and arm movements. According to a Newsweek report this month, the developers of the wristwatch say it can predict an aggressive outburst 60 seconds before it happens, with 84 percent accuracy.

Researchers at Boston’s Northeastern University developed the wristwatch by studying 20 children with autism prone to aggressive episodes over a period of 87 hours. The researchers noted behavioral and physical changes in the children, who were given biosensors to wear. The team also examined data to see how the children’s bodies changed before they became aggressive.

The device was created by Matthew Goodwin, director of Northeastern’s Computational Behavioral Science Laboratory. In a statement, Goodwin noted that for some individuals with autism, “it takes very little to cross the tipping point,” when it comes to aggressive episodes. Goodwin said that by giving caregivers advance notice of an outburst, the watch would prevent them from being caught off guard, and would allow them time to calm the individual and ensure that everyone in the environment is safe.

Goodwin pointed out that many families of children with autism live in a state of constant anxiety due to the unpredictability of the outbursts, and the unknown causes behind them. At times the anxiety is so severe that families are afraid to go outside.

"Some parents say that even if we can only give them 60 percent accuracy, that's better than chance, which is what they've got now,” Goodwin said. “They say that would be priceless." He added that the high accuracy of the device (84%) is due to having a relatively small data set. The researchers plan to test 240 people with autism who deal with aggression, in hopes of improving the percentage.

1 in 59 children in the United States are believed to have autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Autism (also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder), is an umbrella term for conditions that affect speech, nonverbal communication, and social skills, as well as repetitive behavior. The severity of autism varies: while some individuals are highly skilled and capable of living independently, others may experience more serious challenges and require day-to-day support.


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