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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wearable Device May Be Able To Predict Autism Aggression

 Ethan Datsis examined what appeared to be a watch, turning it over a few times before agreeing to have a health professional attach it to his wrist. He seemed to forget about it while anticipating a spaghetti dinner, one of his favorite meals.
Ethan, 17, who has autism and is nonverbal and is staying temporarily at Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook, is part of a $3.1 million national study headed up by MaineHealth that will research how wearable technology could help children with autism and their families.
The three-year study that started last fall will track 200 children and their families in Maine, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. The goal is to see whether the devices can predict aggressive episodes, alerting caretakers such as nurses, aides and parents. If the caretakers receive warnings, they can try to calm down or divert the attention of the children, avoiding assaults or self-injury.
Dr. Matthew Siegel — director of developmental disorders for Maine Behavioral Healthcare, which is part of MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center — said the devices, which utilize technology similar to a Fitbit or an Apple watch but are more complex, have great potential. A pilot study by Maine Behavioral Healthcare in 2017 with 20 children with autism showed that the devices could predict with 74 percent accuracy whether a child would have an aggressive episode within 60 seconds.
“We’re trying to use objective physiological signals,” Siegel said. “If it really works well, that will be exciting and will be another tool in the toolkit for parents and caregivers for the autistic. There’s so much more we need to learn to be able to predict with greater accuracy.”
The device tracks a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, motion and the electrodermal system, which detects perspiration. Combining those four measures, the device can learn to predict when an individual is becoming anxious and can alert caregivers with a simple signal. “Green” would signal that all is well, “yellow” a warning and “red” an indication that the child is likely to become aggressive.