“Would you please stop tapping your feet?” I often hear that request when watching an obligatory hour of Masterpiece Mysteries in the evening. And I do try. However, it’s hard to control involuntary movements, especially when you’re unaware of them. I have Adult ADHD and while I definitely benefit from my treatment plan, the foot tapping remains.

Researchers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia are developing a wrist-worn vibrating device that may help reduce involuntary movements. The wearable is called the ESSENS device. The UPV team primarily intends the device to benefit people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and unspecified intellectual disability. According to UPV’s Cristina Santamarina, the results from testing ESSENS to date suggest the device may benefit additional groups of people who have repetitive involuntary movements.

The ESSENS wearable works with a mobile app that configures the vibration frequency and amplitude. The device is in the earliest testing phases. A proof of concept validation test included five children ages 6 to 10 who have intellectual disability and are on the autism spectrum. The team found that the children’s usual repetitive and involuntary movements reduced or disappeared during a 3-minute stimulation period. Further development of the ESSENS device requires a great deal more testing.

The current version of the ESSENS device maintains a constant vibration. It will be interesting to learn more about the potential of short-term learning sessions on stereotypical behavior. The UPV team believes it has demonstrated that somatosensory stimulation can alter learned motor movement. Broader applications would likely require behavior-triggered vibration response. For example, if an ESSENS-type device were going to help with my frequent but intermittent foot tapping, at minimum the wearable would need to sense the undesired movement and vibrate immediately and until I stopped tapping.