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In the News

"Help me, don't fix me" Wearable technology for autistic adults

Liz Blamire

2nd September 2022

Earlier this year, research was published that explored the views of the autistic community on the benefits and challenges of wearable technology to assist emotional regulation.

What is autism?

Autism is considered part of a neurodiversity continuum - neurodiversity refers to the various ways that people think and behave and a continuum can be thought of as a long line, with subtle changes along it, without any clear dividing lines or boundaries. This essentially means that there is a a whole range of possibilities of thinking and behaviour, rather than one 'typical' or 'normal' way.

There is no single way in which autistic individuals experience the world, however, in general terms they have problems with communication and interaction, may engage in repetitive behaviours, find unexpected changes difficult to adjust to and may experience sensory overload.

What is emotional regulation?

This the ability to control, manage and adapt your emotions, for example focusing on positive or happy things to reduce anxiety, or hiding visible signs of anger in a situation where it might not be appropriate. Many autistic people struggle with emotional regulation and this can lead to increased anxiety, depression and anger and secondary issues such as loneliness and social isolation, as it interferes with social functioning.

How can technology help?

It is theorised that wearable technology, for example a smart watch, can monitor the physiological signs of emotions such as increased heart rate or sweating, and feed this back to the person wearing the device to make them more aware of their emotional state.

Similarly, this feedback could be provided to the individual's carer, so they have a better insight into the emotion being experienced - it is common for autistics to 'mask' or 'camouflage' their true feelings from others (or some individuals with more complex needs may be unable to communicate how they feel).

What views did autistic participants in the research express?

  • technology needs to be person-centred - all autistic people are unique
  • autistic people need to be involved in all stages of design and development of this technology
  • technology is welcomed because it is consistent - it doesn't have emotions or bad days
  • socio-economic factors can affect access to technology
  • ethical issues of autistic adults that may lack capacity or understanding being 'monitored' by technology
  • autistic individuals and their carers (formal and informal) need more training on technology

The full research paper can be read here - “You Feel Like You Kind of Walk Between the Two Worlds”: A Participatory Study Exploring How Technology Can Support Emotion Regulation for Autistic People

A helpful explanation can be read on The Conversation here - Wearable technology can change autistic people’s lives – if they’re involved in designing it

Liz Blamire

Liz is a former NHS midwife, who has worked in community, birth centre and acute hospital settings. Liz is an SSAT Accredited Lead Practitioner, who has taught Health and Social Care in FE and secondary schools, where she was a successful HOD. Liz is an experienced senior examiner and author and is the current tutor2u subject lead for Health and Social Care.

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