Repetitive behaviors and altered movements are often observed in children with autism. These behaviors, such as hand flapping and body rocking, are generally viewed as disruptive behaviors and are targets of therapeutic intervention. However, an alternative hypothesis suggests that these behaviors have calming effects on affected children and may therefore serve as a positive coping strategy. Tse Nga Ng and Leanne Chukoskie propose to objectively study movement behaviors in children with autism by means of low-cost, flexible sensors incorporated in textiles. This approach will enable wider deployment and allow Ng and Chukoskie to attain more accurate information about motor deficits and repetitive behaviors in children with autism. Along with measuring movement, Ng and Chukoskie seek to measure physiological signals related to anxiety in children with autism by monitoring heart rate.
The specific aims of the current proposal are (1) to develop a comfortable undershirt garment with wearable motion sensors and a heart-rate monitor to measure the frequency and duration of repetitive behaviors along with other task-based movement behaviors, and the associated physiological state (heart rate being related to physiological arousal or anxiety); and (2) to examine the correlation between repetitive behaviors and instantaneous physiological states, in order to identify triggers and calming conditions. If Ng and Chukoskie’s findings confirm that repetitive movements are linked to calming physiological signals (that is, lowering heart rate), these repetitive movements will need to be reconsidered in the light of a beneficial tool that can help guide coping behaviors in children affected by autism.