Kids with autism can become unruly and aggressive, often without any warnings for those around them. Such outbursts can also be emotionally difficult for family and caretakers, not just the kids, and planning events and going into public places is a major challenge. Having a bit of warning about an autistic child’s worsening mental state may help to mitigate and even prevent outbursts.

Using the Q-Sensor wrist-worn monitor from Affectiva, a company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, researchers at the University of Missouri have been able to identify increased electrodermal activity levels as a pretty good indicator of oncoming worsening behaviors in autistic kids.

The study involved eight kids with severe cases of autism spectrum disorder who got to wear the Q-Sensors either on their wrists or ankles, depending on cooperation. They were monitored and their behavior analyzed and ranked in terms of the severity of outbursts.

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It was found that the kids’ increased electrodermal activity, which is indicative of rising sweat levels, was present 60% of the time before bad cases of behavior. “A spike in electrodermal activity is telling us that the individual’s body is reacting physiologically to something that is stressful, which could be their internal state, something in the environment, or a combination of the two,” said Bradley Ferguson, the lead researcher of the study appearing in journal Frontiers in Psychiatry. “If parents or caregivers are notified ahead of time that their child’s stress levels are rising, they might have a chance to intervene and de-escalate the situation before problem behaviors occur.”

Similar research was recently conducted by Northeastern University, which involved a few more parameters, including heart rate and body movement. Using a predictive algorithm, the Northeastern team achieved an 84% accuracy in predicting outbursts. Both of the studies involved less than two dozen people, so further research will be necessary. Nevertheless, we may soon see autistic kids wearing smartwatches that really work to help their parents manage bad behaviors.

Here’s a University of Missouri video report about the research:

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