Matthew Goodwin ’98 Speaks on Innovations in Autism Research at Psi Chi Induction

The Holman Room in Mary Lyon Hall was filled faculty and students from psychology, neuroscience and computer science backgrounds for the Psi Chi lecture and induction. On February 23, the Wheaton Chapter inducted 17 students to this nationally recognized honor society. Alum and Psi Chi member Matthew Goodwin ’98 lectured on ‘Developing innovative technologies to enhance research and practice on individuals on the autism spectrum.’

Goodwin serves as an Interdisciplinary Assistant Professor in the department of Health Sciences and College of Computer and Information Science at North Eastern University. His lecture illustrated how technology could be used to measure and observe patterns of behavior of individuals on the autism spectrum. Goodwin said that this disorder, characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication, is found in 1 in 68 children by the age of eight.

“[We spend] $36 billion per year for public health costs associated with providing services for individuals who have autism,” Goodwin said. Some of these costs can be attributed to collecting data about the behavior and psychological arousal of individuals with autism. Lab based assessment, behavioral observation, interviews and video monitoring have proved costly, time-consuming and/or inaccurate.

This where telemetrics, process by which measurements made and data collected are automatically transmitted to the computer, come into play. Goodwin works with wearable and ubiquitous technology that combines information recorded from a person’s body and those collected from sensors placed in a room. This would allow behavioral assessment that is unobtrusive, longitudinal and carried out in a natural setting. “We can take the lab to the people,” said Goodwin.

Such technological advances could revolutionize the study of autism in terms of psychophysiology- bodily measures of stress. Goodwin showed how wearable technology in the form of wrist or waist bands could measure instances of stereotypical motor movements such as hand flapping or body rocking in individuals with autism. Early versions of this type of technology could cost up to $15,000 but newer models will be available for just $200.

Goodwin’s own interest in autism research came from his time at Wheaton and working with his major advisor Grace Baron, professor emerita of psychology who passed away on February 27, 2015. “We both we fascinated and passionate about autism… I am forever grateful for the role that she played in my development,” said Goodwin at the beginning of his lecture.

On advice to current Wheaton students and psychology majors, Goodwin said, “This place can open you up to just about anything you might want to do in the world, if you make an effort to seek out the people who can facilitate your interest.” He also encouraged students to try different courses and take advantage of the Filene Center for internship opportunities.

New inductee Claire McIntyre ’17 said that she was excited and honored to have been nominated to the Psi Chi honor society. On the guest speaker she said, “It was really meaningful that the guest speaker is a Wheaton alumnus and also a member of Psi Chi. Hearing him speak about his research on autism was motivating, I could imagine myself doing my own research in the future.”