Robot-Assisted Therapy for Children with Autism

For decades we’ve known that children with special needs interact well with robots. Studies have shown that children on the autism spectrum achieve an increase in social interactions and are capable of better communication verbally when they are interacting with a robot, and even when there is a robot in the room with them.

These studies have shown that the improvements in social interaction can reach beyond the classroom to interactions with therapists and family members. Practicing social skills in a non-threatening environment, such as engaging with a robot, gives children with ASD the ability to generalize those skills and apply them to other situations.

Software for Autism

Robots software for autism includes educational games and a number of apps that are compatible with certain humanoid robots such as NAO, Misty II, iPal, and Kebbi, and can be used in the classroom or the home.

Software for autism therapy and education has been created with assistance from parents, teachers, and therapists and is customizable to meet the needs of each child. This customization has been a challenge because machine learning typically relies on taking in large amounts of data and picking out patterns.

Because every person with autism has a unique constellation of symptoms and severities the usual methods applied to AI learning have to be modified if the software is going to be effective. Researchers analyze the children’s engagement after sessions and have developed computer models combining many kinds of data, including the performance of the task, audio frequency and pitch, and head pose and eye gaze.

Robots and Communication Skills

Through interaction with the robots, children can practice both verbal and non-verbal communication. They work on mimicking and emotional intelligence, practice taking turns, and other social skills, as well as academics.

Children with autism are often confused and distressed by having to try and interpret a wide variety of physical and emotional cues when interacting with another human being. Robots, on the other hand, are much simpler and more consistent, giving children with ASD the opportunity to practice communication skills without the complication of interpreting too many signals at once.

Interacting with the robot’s software can give kids with ASD the opportunity to practice using body movements, holding eye contact, using gestures such as pointing, and imitation. Students can learn new vocabulary and practice skills such as taking turns speaking and staying on topic.