Matthew Goodwin uses CS to craft innovative support for people with autism

It might start with something as simple as an itchy sweater.

A neurotypical person could manage this annoyance, but to an autistic person with sensory processing issues, the sweater can feel like steel wool scouring their arms. Individuals with profound autism might also lack the ability to pinpoint what is causing their discomfort or the verbal skills to ask for help taking the sweater off. Discomfort can quickly become pain, then panic, and the person begins to “melt down” — screaming, crying, hitting themselves or the people around them, anything to alleviate the distress. It’s often not until the meltdown has begun that the autistic person’s family, friends, or caregivers realize there is a problem.

How much suffering could be spared if that autistic person could communicate their discomfort to the people around them, even just minutes before it becomes unbearable?

Enter Matthew Goodwin — an interdisciplinary associate professor jointly appointed in the Khoury College of Computer Sciences and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, a founding member of the Personal Health Informatics doctoral program, and director of the Computational Behavioral Science Laboratory. His research uses wearable sensing and machine learning to develop tools and techniques that make life easier for autistic people and their caregivers. Goodwin recently received major grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Defense (DOD), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to work on predicting aggressive behavior minutes before it occurs in minimally verbal autistic youth, as well as helping more cognitively able autistic people regulate their stress through paced breathing, progressive relaxation, and other strategies.

“People with profound autism are a segment of the population I think we need to support the most, and yet we have the least amount of information to guide us in their needs and what the best interventions are,” Goodwin said. “It creates a focus and urgency to use computer intelligence to advance our understanding and care for human health.”

Continue reading at Khoury College of Computer Sciences.