Autism toolA digital handheld tool to enable people with autism to connect to their social network when they feel stressed has been developed.

It is estimated that about 500,000 people in the UK have autism, with a third of adults with the condition experiencing social and mental health problems due to a lack of support. Many people on the autistic spectrum find difficulties in interacting with other people, which is why researchers have created the tool to make it easier for them to communicate how they feel.

The tool has been developed as part of the Catalyst project, which brings together researchers and adults with autism to find out what they need and how it can be best developed. It came about after people with autism said it was difficult to begin a conversation and ask for help.

Dr Will Simm, who is part of the project, explained how the tool works: “The idea is that the person with autism carries the device in their pocket and squeezes it hard if they feel stressed. It’s a discreet way of communicating anxiety and the device is connected to their social network.

“The device triggers mobile phone alerts and social network posts letting their family and friends know if they’re stressed so they can either go to help if they’re nearby or send a supportive text.”

The digital tool can also create an online map of people’s stress patterns so they can learn when and why they are most likely to feel anxious.

One parent and carer of a young person with autism has welcomed the device: “This would be great for peace of mind for a family as well as for the person carrying it. I'm particularly interested from the perspective of something for teens/young adults who want to be part of the mainstream world but who may need support in certain settings or at particular times, even if they don't want to be in the position of asking for it and certainly wouldn't admit to any difficulty.”

For more information on the Catalyst project, go to: http://www.catalystproject.org.uk/