Wearable technology can change the lives of people with autism if they design it

PRI GEN INT .EDINBURGH FGN10 AUTISM-TECHNOLOGY Wearable technology can change the lives of people with autism if they are involved in its design By Lauren Gillies-Walker, PhD Researcher/Associate Lecturer, University of the West of Scotland and Naeem Ramzan , Professor, University of the West of Scotland Edinburgh (UK), 7 August (The Conversation) Many people with autism find it difficult to express their emotions. This can lead to increased anxiety, depression, anger, and physical health issues. Research shows that adults with autism are much more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than their peers. Imagine a future where technology could help people regulate their emotions and alert them to sensory overload before they get overwhelmed. A growing number of technological solutions aimed at helping people regulate their emotions are being developed for people with autism. And some people with autism are adapting technology like digital heart rate monitors to try to track their stress levels. Many studies have explored autistic people’s use of wearable technologies, such as smartwatches, virtual reality (VR), or brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) to regulate their emotions. BCIs are a direct communication pathway between electrical activity in the brain and an external device, usually a computer or robotic limb. Talking to the community But before our study, no one asked the autistic community for their views on the usefulness of the technology. Poor usability has been a long-standing problem for autistic users of this technology, as developers are unaware of their needs. A recent study found that only 10% of wearables for people with autism met their needs and 90% saw autistic traits as shortcomings that needed to be addressed. Our recent study explored the autism community’s thoughts on any technology they had previously used to help them regulate their emotions and their views on what they need from technology. Thirty-four people with autism and their allies (family, health and social care professionals and college staff) participated in focus groups. We presented information on how emotion regulation technology could be used. For example, smartwatches that detect physiological stress signals and prompt users to adopt coping techniques. We found that the autistic community wanted to use technology to regulate their emotions, but it was often too expensive, difficult to use without training, and not well suited to their needs. The results of our focus groups showed that wearable technologies could be particularly beneficial for people with autism, if they are involved in the design process. Living with autism One participant explained how her daughter deals with emotional challenges: she looks perfectly fine and she behaves perfectly fine. Except she isn’t. She hides it so well, anxiety and all that we have no idea! Sometimes the boost can lead to a big explosion. Meanwhile, caregivers explained how important it is to understand what people with autism are feeling: you want to get in touch before the behavior starts. Before it gets out of hand. We could go there before to reassure, distract. For others, it’s withdrawal. give them their own space. Another carer said: We know there could be a trend but we just can’t see it. Participants told us that technology could make all the difference. A parent of an autistic person said: I would like something that he could self-regulate, tell people how he feels. Something that’s an app that somehow connects with a color, so he can choose an image that says how he feels and people know that without it being a big song and a dance. Some autistic participants felt there was a lack of support for those with higher IQs. One of them told us: It almost feels like walking between the two worlds. You are not very strict. So you’re not at that point on the spectrum where you need a lot of support that you would get if you were. Help me, don’t fix me Most research is based on outdated theories about autism, such as the idea that it is a medical condition that can be cured or treated. Recent breakthroughs in the neuro-diversity movement have sparked a call for autism research to focus on empowering people with autism and their unique communication styles instead of trying to fix them. Autistic participants agreed that technological designs should promote independence rather than trying to mask autism. Many participants were reluctant to use the technology due to a lack of confidence in their ability to use it, particularly in community care settings. Other barriers included cost or lack of knowledge about existing technology. The results of our study underscored the importance of strategies that take into account an individual’s life goals. Although a lot of money is spent developing new technologies, researchers and healthcare organizations often fail to consider how they will be implemented in practice. As one autistic person said: if you’re going to do something for someone, ask them what they want. Don’t just spit something out and go here’s what I did. The number of articles where people claimed to have done something for learning disabilities. Have you already tested it? Have you ever used it with anyone? Tech companies need to build their products alongside the autistic community. And products should aim to adapt the environment to individual needs, rather than trying to change the person. Autism is simply a different way of seeing the Not only would this new approach help develop helpful technology-based support strategies, but it would help create more inclusive environments for everyone. (The Conversation) PY PY 08071010 NNNN

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