FPTR SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENT TO USE WEARABLE SENSORS TO TRACK MOVEMENT IN CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
Foundation for Physical Therapy Research Scholarship Recipient, Jeffrey Konrad, PT, DPT, is using his award to create a low-cost way of identifying children with autism to guide early diagnoses and interventions.
Nearly one in 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is a lifelong developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Children with ASD display a wide range of symptoms that vary from person to person. Some of the most common challenges these children face involve problems with their social and communication skills. Some children with ASD also experience incoordination and hyperactivity.
Early diagnosis leads to improved quality of life. However, early diagnosis is often difficult and occurs after missed developmental milestones. Thus, tracking movement can reveal developmental deviations before symptoms of autism appear.
Jeffrey Konrad, PT, DPT, a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, is quantifying the characteristics of how people move in the hopes of identifying early diagnoses of ASD.
Recently, Konrad received a Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (FPTR) Promotion of Doctoral Studies (PODS) I Scholarship. This PODS I Scholarship was funded by the American Physical Therapy Association’s Scholarship Fund.
Konrad will use this award to study movement in children with autism using wearable sensors. The sensors provide data that will quantify motor traits in these children. This information could be used to help clinicians identify children at risk of autism and make earlier diagnoses.
“This information can inform an objective autism diagnosis or be used to set treatment priorities and assess intervention efficacy,” says Konrad. “Physical therapists have a unique ability to treat motor impairments and for these kids targeted interventions, particularly at early ages, could alter their developmental trajectory.”
According to Konrad, research funding for projects that will advance care across physical therapy disciplines and patient populations is crucial. “In physical therapy research, there are so many questions that need answers; answers that put more tools in the hands of clinicians,” said Konrad.
Konrad is not discouraged by the current health climate and sees a continued need for physical therapists. “I think patients and physical therapists will develop an even greater appreciation for the immense value physical therapy creates during in-person, hands-on, patient-centered care; the type of care our profession excels at,” said Konrad.
Update: Konrad has since presented preliminary findings at a National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research conference where he also learned how adaptive technology is used to overcome impairments. Konrad has also attended the Penn State National Autism Conference where he learned about the adaptive skills of children with autism. Along with his lab colleagues, Konrad published a perspective paper on the use of wearable technology in clinical populations.
FPTR awards PODS I Scholarships of $7,500 each year to physical therapists or physical therapist assistants who have completed at least two full semesters or three full quarters of their coursework toward a postprofessional doctoral degree. In July, FPTR awarded $212,500 in fellowship and scholarship funding to 12 promising physical therapist researchers. The awards will help these new investigators begin their research careers and complete doctoral studies.