Future affective technology for autism and emotion communication

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12;364(1535):3575-84. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0143.


People on the autism spectrum often experience states of emotional or cognitive overload that pose challenges to their interests in learning and communicating. Measurements taken from home and school environments show that extreme overload experienced internally, measured as autonomic nervous system (ANS) activation, may not be visible externally: a person can have a resting heart rate twice the level of non-autistic peers, while outwardly appearing calm and relaxed. The chasm between what is happening on the inside and what is seen on the outside, coupled with challenges in speaking and being pushed to perform, is a recipe for a meltdown that may seem to come 'out of the blue', but in fact may have been steadily building. Because ANS activation both influences and is influenced by efforts to process sensory information, interact socially, initiate motor activity, produce meaningful speech and more, deciphering the dynamics of ANS states is important for understanding and helping people on the autism spectrum. This paper highlights advances in technology that can comfortably sense and communicate ANS arousal in daily life, allowing new kinds of investigations to inform the science of autism while also providing personalized feedback to help individuals who participate in the research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Autistic Disorder / therapy*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Communication*
  • Emotions*
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Technology / methods