Wearable buzzes the wrist to reduce autism-related unwanted movements
People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability (ID) often experience involuntary movements, which disrupt their ability to perform many tasks. A new device could help reduce those movements, by buzzing its wearer in the wrist.
Known as ESSENS, the wearable is being developed via a partnership between Spain's Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV), the Koynos Cooperativa, plus the companies Itera Engineering and Ingesis Automatización. Its name is an acronym for Estimulación (ES) Sensorial (SENS), or Sensory Stimulation.
Worn like a bracelet, the device delivers high-frequency, low-amplitude vibrational stimuli to the back of the wearer's wrist. It works in conjunction with an app, which is used to program the pattern and schedule of millisecond-long vibrations. Ideally, the wearable would only activate when the involuntary movements started happening, but unfortunately setting it up to do so would be quite challenging.
"Unwanted movements have to be parameterized to program the device. In order to achieve this, the patient has to spend time in a chair for his/her movements to be monitored," said UPV's Dr. Cristina Santamarina, who is leading the research along with Dr. Vicente Cloquell. "This is extremely difficult for people with ASD and ID."
In a test of the technology, a small group children aged six to 10 years old – all of whom had either ASD or ID – used the device to receive three minutes of vibrational stimuli. These sessions were found to greatly reduce or even eliminate the participants' involuntary movements, on a temporary basis.
So, how does it work? Santamarina hypothesizes that the vibrostimulation delivered by ESSENS stimulates the brain's somatosensory cortex, which in turn leads to the inhibition of unwanted motor functions. That said, more research still needs to be conducted. With that in mind, a larger-scale clinical trial is now being planned.