MMCRI/MBH receives major research funding to develop novel system to warn parents of children with autism of imminent aggression

October 23, 2018


Maine Behavioral Healthcare | All News

Matthew Siegel MD 2-01Media Contact: Valerie Compagna, 207-661-6633,

(PORTLAND, MAINE– October 23, 2018) The Simons Foundation of New York, NY and the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation of Wellesley, MA have awarded Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) and Maine Behavioral Healthcare (MBH) a $3.1 million grant to use wearable biosensors to provide real-time warnings of impending aggression in children with autism. This watch-like device will enable clinicians and caregivers to predict challenging behaviors and create a new opportunity to intervene and prevent problems before they occur. Dr. Matthew Siegel, a Faculty Scientist at MMCRI and VP of Medical Affairs Development Disorders at MBH is directing the project.

“The biggest challenge for many people is not necessarily the autism itself, but the serious problem behaviors that can accompany it, such as aggression, self-injury, and severe tantrums,” said Dr. Siegel. “It is the unpredictability of these behaviors that prevent families from being able to go to the grocery store, eat in a restaurant, attend their local school, or even go to a doctor’s office.”

Current approaches to behavioral problems in autism have primarily focused on what happens after an episode of aggression. The new three-year clinical study will investigate whether physiology signals such as heart rate and sweating can indicate the probability of an impending aggressive episode, and allow people in the environment to receive a warning.

“Imagine the possibilities for prevention and a family’s quality of life if we can accurately predict that one of these behaviors will likely happen in the next 2 minutes,” said Dr. Siegel. “Suddenly, we are able to know when things are not going well, provide coping strategies, and increase safety. …Put simply, this is a potentially transformative approach to serious problem behaviors in autism.”

This research study will be performed through the Autism & Developmental Disorders Inpatient Research Collaborative (ADDIRC), a research network of specialized child psychiatric hospital units that serve children and adolescents with autism and other developmental disorders, which was founded in 2013 by Dr. Siegel and administrated from MMCRI/MBH. Members include Bradley Hospital (Brown University), Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (University of Cincinnati), Children’s Hospital Colorado (University of Colorado), Sheppard Pratt Health Systems (University of Maryland), and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinics (University of Pittsburgh). Northeastern University, Boston, MA is providing computer science expertise for the project.

About the Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI)
MMCRI is the research arm of Maine Medical Center and seeks to enhance the health of our population through excellence in research across the spectrum of the biomedical and health sciences.

About Maine Behavioral Healthcare (MBH)
Maine Behavioral Healthcare is a leading provider of developmental disorder and mental health services, with over 30 outpatient locations throughout southern, western and mid-coast Maine, as well as Spring Harbor Hospital, providing an integrated continuum of comprehensive, coordinated behavioral healthcare for Maine residents of all ages.