Sometimes without warning, one of the autistic students in a classroom at the Center for Discovery will lose control. He will scream and cry. Throw things. Bang his head against the wall.
The six adolescent boys in this Monticello, N.Y., classroom, some of the hardest-to-handle students in New York State, cannot explain what is upsetting them. Unable to talk, they seem to live in their own world.
Matthew Goodwin, an assistant professor at Northeastern University, is trying to better understand their world by carefully tracking the boys’ movements and their environment. He has the boys wear sensors on their ankles and wrists that measure arousal levels, while cameras mounted on the walls record activities in the classroom, with the goal of finding what triggers episodes in the boys.
This is one of the early projects in a new program at Northeastern University to develop personal health informatics: devices and apps to improve health.
“The goal is really to be observing what happens from a patient’s point of view,” said Stephen Intille, one of the program’s founding faculty members. “Where can we insert technology to make their experience better?”