Sweat Sensors to Predict Behavioral Issues in Autistic Children

Sweat sensors for autism
Image credit: University of Missouri

Children affected by autism can become unruly and aggressive, often without any warnings. For normal people, it’s very natural to sweat when they become stressed. Now, University of Missouri (MU) researchers are looking to monitor how much autistic teens sweat in order to better understand when behavioral issues, such as aggression, are likely to occur, reports Mizzou News.

Bradley Ferguson, an assistant research professor in the departments of health psychology, radiology and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at MU, and colleagues used wrist and ankle monitors to analyze the stress levels of eight adolescents who are severely affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study was conducted at the Center for Discovery, a residential facility in New York that provides advanced care and research for individuals with complex conditions.

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They found that the kids’ increased electrodermal activity, which is indicative of rising sweat levels, was present 60% of the time before bad cases of behavior.

A family in a doctor's office
Image credit: University of Missouri

“A spike in electrodermal activity is telling us that the individual’s body is reacting physiologically to something that is stressful, which could be their internal state, something in the environment, or a combination of the two,” said Ferguson, assistant research professor in the departments of health psychology, radiology and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “If parents or caregivers are notified ahead of time that their child’s stress levels are rising, they might have a chance to intervene and de-escalate the situation before problem behaviors occur.”

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If the parents or the caregivers know beforehand about the child’s electrodermal activity, it can allow them to intervene before the child engages in a problematic behavior, explained Ferguson. “Individuals who are severely affected by autism spectrum disorder are often unable to verbally communicate their discomfort when they become stressed,” he said. “However, their body still responds to stressors just like anyone else. Therefore, being alerted of increases in electrodermal activity can allow parents and caregivers to intervene prior to engagement in problem behavior with the goal of ensuring the health and safety of those involved.”