Georgia Tech Creating High-Tech Tools to Study Autism
Innovations will lead to better treatment, assessment for children
Posted Sep 25, 2012 | Atlanta, GA
The other new system, developed in collaboration with the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta and Dr. Thomas Ploetz of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, is a package of sensors, worn via straps on the wrists and ankles, that uses accelerometers to detect movement by the wearer. Algorithms developed by the team analyze the sensor data to automatically detect episodes of problem behavior and classify them as aggressive, self-injurious or disruptive (e.g., throwing objects).
Researchers first developed the algorithms by putting the sensors on four Marcus clinic staff members who together performed some 1,200 different behavior instances, and the system detected “problem” behaviors with 95 percent accuracy and classified all behaviors with 80 percent accuracy. They then used the sensors with a child diagnosed along the autism spectrum, and the system detected the child’s problem-behavior episodes with 81 percent accuracy and classified them with 70 percent accuracy.
“These results are very promising in leading the way toward more accurate and reliable measurement of problem behavior, which is important in determining whether treatments targeting these behaviors are working,” said CSL Director Agata Rozga, a research scientist in the School of Interactive Computing and co-investigator on the Expeditions award. “Our ultimate goal with this wearable sensing system is to be able to gather data on the child’s behavior beyond the clinic, in settings where the child spends most of their time, such as their home or school. In this way, parents, teachers and others who care for the child can be potentially alerted to times and situations when problem behaviors occur so that they can address them immediately.”
“What these tools show is that computational methods and technologies have great promise and potential impact on the lives of many children and their parents and caregivers,” said Gregory Abowd, Regents’ Professor in the School of Interactive Computing and a prominent researcher in technology and autism. “These technologies we are developing, and others developed and explored elsewhere, aim to bring more effective early-childhood screening to millions of children nationwide, as well as enhance care for those children already diagnosed on the autism spectrum.”
Both technologies were presented in early September at the 14th ACM International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp 2012). Among the other devices under study at CSL are a camera/software system that can track children’s facial expressions and customized speech analysis software to detect vocalization patterns.
For more information on behavioral imaging, visit the Georgia Tech/NSF website on computational behavioral science at http://www.cbs.gatech.edu. For information or to volunteer for one of CBI’s ongoing studies, visit the Child Study Lab website at http://childstudy.hsi.gatech.edu.