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University of Ulster experts are involved in an international research project  that aims to use emerging healthcare technologies to provide personalised ‘in-home’ intervention strategies for children with autism spectrum disorder.

The EU funded MICHELANGELO Project brings together an interdisciplinary team of eight partner organisations in Italy, Malta, UK and France bridging academia, industry and clinical practice. Each has a specific area of expertise across computer science, software and electronic engineering, medical sciences, developmental psychiatry, clinical psychology and includes therapists, educators and business professionals, as well as associations working with children with autism and their families.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that is usually diagnosed in children by the age of three. Autistic children can typically display challenging behaviour such as tantrums, aggression, self-harm and hyperactivity, posing significant difficulties for parents, family members and carers. As yet, there is no known cure for autism but several approaches have been established to improve communication, language, play and life-skills to help reduce the onset of disruptive behaviour.

Ulster academics are playing a key role in the MICHELANGELO Project by developing a clinical decision support system to be used in the autistic child’s home to monitor their behavior and help support their assessment and therapy.

Dr Mark Donnelly from the Faculty of Computing and Engineering’s School of Computing and Mathematics is leading the research team in Ulster’s Computer Science Research Institute. It includes Professor Chris Nugent, Dr Leo Galway, Dr Paul McCullagh, Dr Liming Chen and Dr Gaye Lightbody.

Dr Donnelly explained: “We are aiming to support the delivery of intervention programmes for children with autism by developing technology solutions that can be used at home to help manage the child’s behaviour.

“We want to evaluate different sensor-based technologies to record physiological measurements such as monitoring brain wave activity, heart rate, sweat index and body temperature in addition to embedding video monitoring systems to monitor behaviour. This information will then be routinely assessed and the intervention plan modified by clinical specialists.

“We are delighted to be part of such a cutting edge research Project that will provide us an opportunity to use our skills and knowledge in assistive technologies in a very important clinical domain.”

The University of Ulster recently hosted a consortium meeting for the partner organisations involved in the FP7 (Framework Programme 7) EU-funded MICHELANGELO Project. The Project is currently in its first year and the results of the research will be validated through an exploratory study with children who have autism in France and in Italy.

The Project is being run from within the Smart Environments Research Group (SERG) at the School of Computing and Mathematics and is one of a number of Connected Health flagship projects currently being undertaken by the group.