Interactive Autism

By | Health & Wellness
First ever digital tool that enables people with autism to connect to their social network when they feel anxious or stressed

With approximately 500,000 people challenged with autism in the UK, those people are now welcoming a new hi-tech invention – the first ever digital tool that enables people with autism to connect to their social network when they have far from productive feelings.

It seems to be understood that many people on the autistic spectrum have challenges with either interacting or forming relationships with other people. For this reason, researchers have developed a hand-held tool that serves to may make it easier for those with autism to communicate how they feel when they challenges to do so in words.

As Dr Maria Angela Ferrario, Senior Research Associate at Lancaster Management School explains, the Catalyst Project involves “partnership between Lancaster University academics together with Lancaster County Council, the National Autistic Society and the NHS and aims to develop new technologies that may address condition management needs of adults on the high end of the spectrum.”

The Catalyst Project brings together researchers and autistic adults to determine what those with the disorder require and how it may be best developed. “The idea is that the person with autism carries the device in their pocket and squeezes it when if they feel [challenged],” describes Catalyst researcher Dr Will Simm. “It’s a discreet way of communicating [feelings]. The device triggers mobile phone alerts and social network posts letting their family and friends know if they’re [having challenging feelings] so they can either go to help if they’re nearby or send a supportive text.” Furthermore, the digital tool also creates an online map of a user’s stress patterns so they may reflect on when and why they are more likely to feel challenged and establish preventative techniques.

After extensive consultations with various members of the autism community, including autistic people who felt that it was challenging to start a conversion or to ask for help when having these feelings, a prototype was initiated. The third stage of the process, where the project currently stands, follows the up-scaling of knowledge and the building of trust with partners, along with the development of the first prototypes. This involves the production and distribution of new prototypes every fortnight.

One person with autism and works with Catalyst, has welcomed the device: “The main thing for me is that it is something that could benefit myself, however it is also something that could benefit others. I’ve always wanted to get involved with something that has helped others, however also do it in a way that is close to my heart, and obviously autism is close to my heart.”

Ultimately, the device may offer peace of mind for the family supporting those with autism, while also allowing autistic people a sense of freedom, purpose, and the potential to participate in mainstream society despite needing extra support in certain circumstances.

Dr Ferrario believes that the technology “is really the tip of the iceberg. The important aspect about this tool are the people that worked together to make it happen.”

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