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Assessing and Communicating Movement Stereotypy and Arousal Telemetrically in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Stereotypical motor movements or stereotypies are one of the most common and least understood behaviors occurring in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Stereotypies are complex and thought to serve a multiplicity of functions. While no one theory has obtained overwhelming support, there is evidence for biological, operant, and homeostatic interpretations. Of particular importance to the current project, a small number of studies support the notion that there is a functional relationship between movement stereotypy and arousal in individuals with ASD, such that changes in autonomic activity either precede or are a consequence of engaging in stereotypies. Thus, it appears to be the case for some individuals that stereotypic movements are adaptively employed to help regulate stress, which in turn may help regulate attention, emotion, and social behaviors. Unfortunately, it is difficult to generalize these findings since previous studies fail to report reliability statistics that demonstrate accurate identification of movement stereotypy start and end times, and use autonomic monitors that are obtrusive and thus only suitable for short-term measurement in laboratory settings. This project focused on exploring the relationship between movement stereotypy and autonomic activity in persons with ASD by combining state-of-the-art ambulatory heart rate monitors to objectively assess arousal across settings and wireless, wearable motion sensors (accelerometers) and pattern recognition software that can automatically and reliably detect stereotypical motor movements in individuals with ASD in real-time. Obtaining detailed and accurate information on the occurrence, type of movement, frequency, duration, and setting events associated with movement stereotypy is critical to understanding this behavior. Moreover, assessing and communicating stereotypical movements and arousal telemetrically may facilitate more precise intervention efforts before they are entrenched in an individual’s repertoire.