Wearable sensor predicts outbursts from autistic users

Scientists at Northeastern University have created a wearable device that claims to be able to predict aggressive outbursts from autistic people a minute before the outburst happens. The wearable device is designed to alert caretakers when stress levels are nearing the point where an aggressive episode could happen. The device was created by a behavioral scientist called Matthew Goodwin.

Goodwin's device is meant to be worn on the wrist. He notes that autistic people have higher levels of stress at resting levels than people who don't have autism. This makes them more prone to aggressive outbursts. Goodwin says that their stress levels are already at the ceiling and it takes very little to push them over the edge to an aggressive event.

The wearable device that Goodwin has invented goes on the wrist and can measure heart rate, sweat production, skin surface temperature, and arm movements. Goodwin and his team of researchers observed 20 autistic children who have aggressive episodes. Over 87 hours, each episode the children had was monitored, and the psychological changes that came along with the episodes were tracked.

The information was then synced with a clock in the biosensors the children wore. The researchers were able to match each outburst with bodily changes that occurred before, during, and after episodes. Based on the 20 samples, Goodwin was able to predict an aggressive outburst a minute in advance with 84% accuracy.

The scientist says that the one-minute advance warning is a limit of the dataset and that with a larger data set and more sophisticated machine learning they could get more than a minute of warning. The device should free parents of autistic children from self-imposed house arrest. Goodwin says that the parents often don't go anywhere with their kids for fear of an aggressive outburst.