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Smart glasses technology may help treat patients with autism, ADHD


A new study shows that smart glasses reduce symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in individuals with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Two ODs weigh in on the study and why it shows promise for future treatment options.

A new study shows that smart glasses can reduce the symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in individuals with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).1

“This small pilot study investigated the impact of behavioral therapy on kids with ADHD and found exciting short-term results,” says Optometry Times Editorial Advisory Board Member Marc B. Taub, OD, MS, FAAO, FCOVD.

Smart glasses assist with everyday cues

Researchers showed a reduction in ADHD-related symptoms, such as hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity, in school-aged children, adolescents, and young adults with ASD in this study using the Empowered Brain system.

The Empowered Brain system is a combination of modern smart glasses and educational modules targeting socioemotional and behavioral management skills. Google Glass smart glasses are lightweight head-worn computers with a small transparent display that can provide guidance to users through both visual and audio cues.

Related: How technology changed optometry’s role in cataract comanagement

Smart glasses contain inbuilt sensors, as well as a small screen and a bone conduction speaker to provide a private audiovisual experience with a range of assistive and educational modules.

“The use of the Google Glass technology is an interesting enhancement to this type of therapy,” says Dr. Taub.

Symptoms decrease with smart glasses use

Researchers recruited eight children, adolescents, and young adults with ASD. participants’ baseline scores on the hyperactivity subscale of the Aberrant Behavioral Checklist (ABC-H), a measure of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity, determined their classification into a high ADHD-related symptom group or a low ADHD-related symptom group.

“The overlap in symptoms between ASD and ADHD has long been noted,” says Nova Southeastern University Professor Rachel A. Coulter, OD, FAAO, FCOVD. “Experts, including Geri Dawson at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, have stated that ODs are uncertain whether ASD and ADHD occur along a continuum or are two distinct conditions. In both conditions, individuals experience a high frequency of visual symptoms.”

All study participants received an intervention with Empowered Brain, in which each used smart glasses-based social communication and behavioral modules while interacting with their caregivers. Researchers then calculated caregiver-reported ABC-H scores at 24 and 48 hours after the session.

All eight participants completed the intervention session. ABC-H scores were lower for most participants at 24 hours and for all participants at 48 hours post-intervention. Average participant ABC-H scores decreased by 54.9 percent in the high ADHD symptom group and by 20 percent in the low ADHD symptom group 24 hours after the intervention.

ABC-H scores compared with baseline decreased by 56.4 percent in the high ADHD symptom group and by 66.3 percent in the low ADHD symptom group 48 hours after the intervention.

Related: Upgrade your patients to new technology

“Using this intervention, a significant reduction of behavioral symptoms including hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity, was achieved in children and young adults with ASD,” says Dr. Coulter.

Study promising but limited

Although the study is encouraging, 24 to 48 hours is a very short-term impact, and the long-term ramifications were not broached, says Dr. Taub.

“The question I have is how the use of the glasses would compare to previous studies using a similar program,” says Dr. Taub. “It would have been beneficial if the authors had ensured clear, single vision prior to enrolling subjects in this study.”

Dr. Taub and Dr. Coulter agree that the study shows promising results, but additional longitudinal studies with larger control groups are needed to understand the clinical importance of these observed changes.

“This study presents an interesting outcome that points to additional investigation,” says Dr. Coulter. “It is important to note the limitations of this study; no control group was used, and the study did not include longitudinal follow-up data to determine if an improvement was maintained.”

Potentially, smart glasses intervention may be able to be targeted to a broader array of mental health conditions that exhibit transdiagnostic attentional and social communication deficits.



1. Vahabzadeh A, Keshav NU, Salisbury JP, Sahin NT. Improvement of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms in School-Aged Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults With Autism via a Digital Smartglasses-Based Socioemotional Coaching Aid: Short-Term, Uncontrolled Pilot Study. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5(2):e25.

Read more from Giovanni Castelli here

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