ST. PAUL - Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed wearable technology to help autism.
Sitting behind the front desk at the Autism Society of Minnesota is Jillian Nelson. "You wouldn't necessarily have any idea that I'm a person on the autism spectrum," said Nelson, the office's receptionist. And, Jillian's right, you can't tell, although, every now and then...
"It feels like every single nerve in my body is on fire," said Nelson.
Her senses heighten. It can be overwhelming, so Jillian will snuggle up under a weighted blanket for comfort. Others use a weighted vest.
But, there's a new type of vest that could help Jillian and other people with autism.
U of M researchers have developed a vest that gives off a calming squeeze.
"These components were built to try and help develop a spacesuit to send astronauts to Mars," said Brad Holschuh, the co-director of the Wearable Technology Lab at the U's College of Design.
Graduate student Julia Duvall saw that space technology and thought about her nephew, who has autism, and struggles with weighted clothing.
"One of the big problems is that people become acclimated to the pressure. That means if they're wearing a weighted vest or a tight-fitting knit garment under their clothes - they have to take that off at a certain point," said Duvall.
Which can be disruptive. So, their group created the very first dynamic compression vest, controlled by an app, and Holschuh showed it to us.
"These guys right here are the heat sensitive materials. In the back here we have the module. There's a battery and a bluetooth controller. So, when you hit the button on your phone, it sends a current through these pieces and they pull tight," said Holschuh.
One day, that technology could help people with autism, like Jillian, who works every day for a larger purpose, "I want to change the perception of how the world sees autism."