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Wearable Wireless Toolkit for Measurement and Communication of Autonomic Nervous System Activity in Autism

While many scientists have recognized the importance of characterizing stress and other Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) responses associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), traditional measurements have been limited to snapshots taken in a laboratory setting, and to group averages that ignore the highly dynamic patterns in an individual’s ANS responsivity during daily activities. The key problem is that existing measurement devices have not been usable in a continuous, unobtrusive way outside the laboratory.  This research utilized state-of-the-art knowledge in technology, especially in wearable sensors and wireless communication technology, to construct a comfortable, low-cost toolkit that makes it possible for people on the autism spectrum and their caregivers to continuously monitor and communicate autonomic arousal in daily life, including activity at home, school, and in community settings.  Participants could also, if desired, share their ultra-dense data with scientists, providing an unprecedented opportunity for analysis of the everyday dynamics of ANS reactivity in persons diagnosed with ASD. The investigators designed, built, tested, deployed, and evaluated the use of a toolkit consisting of a wrist-worn set of ANS sensors, together with a tiny low-power wireless radio, software analysis tools, communication controls, and visualization tools to enable persons on the autism spectrum and their caregivers to communicate ANS state information to trusted others, and to visualize and compare patterns in their data across time and different daily activities.  Examining these patterns, they evaluated their potential for alerting people to states of interest that are helpful to predict, such as seizures, given that the condition of repeated seizures (epilepsy) is conservatively estimated to occur in 25% of ASD cases.  They also evaluated the presence of other dynamic patterns that may be person-dependent, but useful for communicating states that are conducive to learning, attention, and successful social interaction.