This Simple Wearable Could Make Tracking Autism-Related Anxiety Easier

Wearable technology has plenty of potential health benefits, but sometimes you don’t need a $500 all-purpose device to solve a problem. In some cases, simple is best, and the Snap is definitely one of those cases.

It’s a wearable that’s intended to make tracking anxiety a lot more natural. Tracking is a good way to find the things that trigger or reinforce your anxiety, but for tracking to work, you have to stay on top of it. There are journals and apps, but they aren’t necessarily easily at hand when you’re in an anxiety-inducing situation.

But a lot of people with anxiety — particularly autistic people — do keep something to fidget with when they’re anxious, like spinning rings, tangle toys and pendants you can bite. They’re good for self-stimulation, or stimming. The Snap fits into that category as a stretchable bracelet, but it does something else, too: it keeps track of the times you stretch, grip or pull it, and sends that info back to your phone.

That way, stimming when you’re anxious doesn’t just help in the moment, it also allows you to keep track of your anxiety in the long-term.

Clasp, a technology-oriented team from Lancaster University, worked with autistic adults and autism support organizations to come up with the Snap, developing it over a three-month period. The team used commonly-available maker tech to create it — a 3D printed case and and Arduino-compatible RFDuino micro controller sewn up with a crotched bracelet. That way, people can create their own Snaps and customize them to their exact needs.

Lancaster University recently discussed this choice, explaining why digitizing a common reaction to anxiety makes a lot of sense.

“We wanted to build our own device and we thought that if we could digitise something [people diagnosed with autism] do anyway – play with things in their hands – then that could potentially help them to manage their anxiety,” said Dr Will Simm, one of the researchers from Lancaster University School of Computing and Communications. “This is about empowering people with data to reflect about their anxiety.”

It is important that Snap can be customisable for the user so they have a greater sense of ownership of the device than an off-the-shelf product.

Through rapid prototyping, the researchers were able to involve adults diagnosed with autism in the design process and it was discovered that the design process itself, and the ability to customise Snap, was therapeutic to the volunteers.

“Our approach has facilitated an understanding and management of anxiety through Snap interactions and data capture,” said Dr Simm. “The process of designing and building Snap has enabled our participants to discuss experiences of anxiety in a way their supporters said they had never before articulated.”

For people who are less interested in customizing their experience, researchers are also working with product designers to come up with a more streamlined version, to be called Clip.

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