Researchers studying how smartwatches might help children with autism

A popular piece of everyday technology is proving to be a powerful tool for children with autism. Researchers at Northeastern University and Boston Children’s Hospital are examining how smartwatches might help these students learn and interact better.

Northeastern University professor Ralf Schlosser is studying how a smartwatch can help guide a child through all kinds of daily activities.

“It could be a text message to cue the child with autism,” said Schlosser. “We’re excited about this because it reduces the stigma that might be associated with having an instructional aide. It’s unobtrusive. It’s discreet. And by the way, it’s very cool to have a watch.”

Schlosser said this population of children tends to respond well to technology. “In our research and in the clinical environment, the children do very well with smartwatches. Many children with autism have an affinity for visuals, and for electronic screen media.”

Amanda O’Brien, a Ph.D. student and a trained speech-language pathologist, is also working on the project. She says this approach could also work at home by having parents send messages to their children when it’s time to brush their teeth or go to bed. “We can look at using time-based reminders, so at a specific time, we could have a reminder appear on the watch that says it’s time to get ready for school.”

The biggest advantage, according to Schlosser, is that using smartwatches gives a child a better chance of fitting in.

“The beauty of this is it’s everyday technology, so it doesn’t make the child look special.”

Researchers used Apple watches but believe less expensive models would also work. At this point, insurance doesn’t cover any costs, according to Schlosser.

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