Wearable digitally records anxiety data for adults with autism

Courtesy of the Clasp Project

Specialists from Lancaster University conducted research with adults diagnosed with autism and a wearable wristband device called Snap. Snap allows users to digitally record data when they are feeling anxious.

The Snap wearable was created during a three-month rapid development process. The band can be stretched, at which point the wearable begins recording data. This data can be reflected upon to understand anxieties better, similar to looking back on a personal diary.

“When that wristband is stretched or played with, at that moment the micro controller records a timestamp,” a video from the Clasp Project explained. “Hopefully that will help them to understand the buildup to anxiety and triggers to anxiety.”

In a paper titled “Anxiety and Autism: Towards Personalized Digital Health,” researchers explained how the tech was built and how the study went.

The band itself is made of natural materials and a 3-D printed pod that holds the RFDunio micro controller. The researchers explained that this is a more active way of recording data, rather than the passive recording of steps, gestures or heart rates from devices similar to the Fitbit. This active recording is triggered by the user, offering greater control over what data are collected, “an important consideration for people diagnosed with autism,” the announcement explained.

In addition to collecting data, the device could also be used to signal support workers who can then aid an individual feeling anxious.

The wristband idea came after considering how those diagnosed with autism tend to fiddle with things in their hands. “We wanted to build our own device and we thought that if we could digitise something they do anyway--play with things in their hands--then that could potentially help them to manage their anxiety,” said Will Simm, one of the researchers from Lancaster University School of Computing and Communications, in the announcement. “This is about empowering people with data to reflect about their anxiety.”

Snap’s researchers focused on details that would be important to those with autism, such as customizable bands. This allows for greater ownership over the device. They even involved their volunteers with autism in the design process, which was “therapeutic to the volunteers,” the announcement noted.

“Our approach has facilitated an understanding and management of anxiety through Snap interactions and data capture,” said Simm. “The process of designing and building Snap has enabled our participants to discuss experiences of anxiety in a way their supporters said they had never before articulated.”

The data themselves can be retained on the device and downloaded to a computer without the need for cloud storage.

Users are able to use the device to not only focus on anxious moments, but also positive life experiences. “It was also crucial that the project didn’t just focus on the build up to anxious states and so the device can also record data on wearers’ positive states as well,” said Simm.

The project has received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and currently researchers are hoping to further develop the prototypes based on user feedback and requests, such as a clickable button. The team is also working on an online platform that would help wearers with reflection and that would work with both customized and off-the-shelf products.

- here's the release
- and here's where you can purchase the paper

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