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Dymaxia: Combining cloud, IoT and wearables to manage the anxiety of autism

Canadian startup Dymaxia explains how it's using cloud, IoT and wearable devices to help autistic people manage anxiety

The internet of things (IoT) has the potential to revolutionise the healthcare industry, by allowing patients to self-monitor their conditions with in-home sensors and wearable devices.

GE Healthcare, HPE and Philips are just some of the household names that are pouring their research and development budgets into creating and trialling products and services in this area, alongside a number of lesser known startups such as Ontario-based firm Dymaxia.

Like many startups in the field of healthcare IoT, Dymaxia is focused on meeting the specific clinical needs of a distinct group of patients. Its heartrate monitoring app is designed to gauge the anxiety levels of children with autism.

Heartrates are measured using a wearable device. This information is fed back in real time to Dymaxia’s Anxiety Meter smartphone or tablet app so patients and caregivers can track how a child’s mood changes over the course of a day.

Tracking and monitoring

Keeping a record of this data over time can help parents pinpoint situations that regularly cause their child’s anxiety to spike, Asim Siddiqi, co-founder and CEO of Dymaxia, tells Computer Weekly.

“This data could reveal that Monday mornings are always stressful for this child, or maybe it’s particularly bad on Tuesday afternoons because they have maths. They can start taking steps to address and minimise that stress,” he says.

Having this information can also help teachers and therapists decide how to best proceed with a particular child's day-to-day learning.

The Anxiety Meter app converts heartrate data into an accurate measure of a child's anxiety levels

“If a therapist is working on teaching a new skill such as potty training, having an insight into the child’s anxiety levels can help them decide if their time would be better spent reinforcing what they have already learnt or if they are likely to be open to taking the next step,” says Siddiqi.

“If the data shows they have been very anxious and have had a really tough day, the therapist will not want to push the limits and risk upsetting the child further because that could have a negative impact on their relationship.

Parents and care providers often currently have to rely on written journals, compiled using verbal feedback from the child, to get a feel for how they are, he says. But this can be time-consuming, particularly if the child feels uncomfortable opening up.

“One of the best tools therapists and parents have at their disposal right now is to ask the child, ‘Is your engine running or is your volcano erupting?’ to gauge their anxiety levels. Another sign they look for is pupil dilation, but it can be difficult to do these things on a day-to-day basis.”

An app for that

The Dymaxia app uses an algorithm developed in-house at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Canada. It converts heartrate data into an accurate measure of a child’s anxiety levels, based on information the facility has accrued during clinical trials dating back to 2011.

“They have made a lot of studies to understand the difference between the heartrates of children with autism and those without in terms of anxiety, and we’re using the algorithm to create a commercial product,” says Hussam Malek, co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) of Dymaxia.

“Heartrate was monitored through an ECG smart device when it was initially tested in the hospital,” he says. We’re now trying to change that to a wearable device that connects to a smartphone or tablet, so the data can be pushed out to the cloud and analysed.”

Dymaxia is using the Microsoft Band 2 as its chosen wearable technology during development. However, its plan is to support devices from a wide range of manufacturers, including Fitbit and Pebble, to make the app as accessible as possible once it goes on general release.

“Our goal is to have three to five bands we can recommend people use that can be bought off the shelf from a tech store. Then, when they get home, they can download the app to their Android or Apple device,” says Malek.

“We want to be device agnostic because that will allow us to scale quickly. Fitbit, Microsoft and Pebble can all make better bands than a small startup like us.”

For scalability purposes, the company is also using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to store and analyse the heartrate data it collects, while drawing on the software giant’s Power BI data visualisation software to make the information easier for people to digest.

Siddiqi says the company opted for Azure over Microsoft’s competitors because the service needs to run on a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant cloud, hosted in datacentres located in each market the company initially plans to operate in.

“When you’re dealing with HIPAA compliance, data has to be stored locally. For the Canadian population it has to be stored in Canada and for the US it has to be stored in the US,” he says.

“We need to scale as quickly as possible, and this would not be possible if we were doing things on our own servers.”

Potential for expansion

There is no set general release date for the Dymaxia app at present, but Siddiqi – a neuroscience and engineering graduate – has personal reasons for ensuring it does.

“My cousin had a child who was diagnosed with autism around the time I was at university, and I was chatting to them one day about his development. My cousin said he was doing great, but she couldn’t see him getting a university education or a job, or getting married or leaving home,” he says.

“Hearing this lack of hope was just devastating, so I was looking for technologies that could help her and the community in general, and The Anxiety Meter intersects my areas of speciality and something that hits home for me personally.”

Therefore, he hopes the service will go on to give autistic people the chance to live more independent lives, by making the management of a particularly debilitating part of their condition easier.

“Up to 84% of autistic children will experience impairing symptoms of anxiety. Something as simple as going to the shops and buying milk, or interacting socially with someone they’ve never met before is very anxiety-inducing,” says Siddiqi.

“It can be a big barrier to their learning and development. It can cause problems like increased substance abuse and dropping out of school. Giving them confidence in managing their anxiety and overcoming these things is very important.”

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