Guest Post By Dan Florell, Ph.D.
They seem to be almost everywhere. People wearing those thick black bands or blocky looking watches. The fitness band has caught on as more people are trying to be aware of how much they move in a given day and what quality of sleep they are getting.
The idea of the fitness band is quite intriguing, especially for data addicts like school psychologists. I lost count at the last NASP convention of how many people I saw wearing them. It did get me to thinking how that data might be used during our assessments.
There is a lot of research literature that highlights how exercise and the quantity and quality of sleep can have a significant impact on children and adolescents’ functioning. Yet, most school assessments barely address the issue beyond a couple of questions on a background questionnaire.
My proposal is to have a child or adolescent use a fitness band for seven days. The band can track the student’s movement and sleep which would give school psychologists better insight into issues that have typically gone unaddressed. This could prevent children who are inattentive or irritable from being wrongly diagnosed with a disorder when there are underlying sleep issues or poor exercise habits. In addition, the use of fitness band data would provide some behavioral data to coincide with teacher and parents’ perceptions.
There are a few caveats to acknowledge and obstacles to overcome with using fitness bands in assessment. One is that the fitness bands can be unreliable in measuring steps and sleep. I have a UP3 Jawbone fitness band and a pedometer I wear regularly. I have noticed that the fitness band can differ from the hip-mounted pedometer by a couple thousand steps (plus or minus) at the end of the day. I tend to trust the hip-mounted pedometer for accuracy. Due to these concerns, school psychologists should treat fitness band data as a type of screener for sleep and exercise issues and not use it for any definitive diagnoses.
Another caveat is the cost of the fitness bands. Most bands that measure both steps and sleep are in the $150 range so cost could be an issue in implementing. A cheaper alternative would be to focus just on activity level and have the student use a pedometer that stores a week’s worth of data.
Even though fitness bands have a few weaknesses, I believe that they could greatly contribute to our understanding of a student on dimensions that we have previously had little insight into. Let me know how it goes if you try using a fitness band in your assessment.