Monday, 8 June 2015

Sensors to Warn of Meltdowns in Development

Students at UBC are trying to develop an unobtrusive wearable set of sensors which would warn parents when their autistic children are approaching meltdown levels.  It's based on the technology which measures heart rates and hydration levels for athletes through sensors in their t-shirts.

I'm encouraged that autism is in enough people's minds to make research projects like this a reality.  The students are actively trying to think of ways to make parents' lives easier.  A way to check a graph or a display to see if a child is close to breakdown or can handle "one more thing".

I'll admit I'm of two minds about this particular project.  I assume that once they have a working prototype for sensors that they will do testing to see whether or not it can accurately predict a tantrum or meltdown before a parent can see visible signs.  (I usually can gauge how Alex is doing by how much and how rapidly he's fidgeting.  As the amount and pacing go up, the more agitated he is and the closer we are to a tipping point.)  I'm having visions of a bar like the "download" bar which jumps and skips (You have 5 minutes to tantrum, 1 minute to tantrum, 2 minutes 30 seconds to tantrum, 15 seconds to tantrum).

On the other hand, this could also be a great self-regulating device for people with autism.  Most people have a hard time judging perspective when they're agitated.  An early warning that a person is tipping over into an emotional meltdown could be an excellent reminder to practice calming strategies.  (And now I'm picturing Bruce Banner/Hulk's wristwatch which warned him if his heartrate was getting close to the magic 200 beats per minute when he would transform.)

Even if this ends up being no more than a gadget daydream, it's a start.  It's thinking about the problem and trying to come up with solutions.  And the more people we have doing that, the more tools will end up  in parents' hands. 

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