Classroom robot boosts STEM, engages children with autism

But it’s not just budding engineers who are using NAO in the classroom–the robot also is helping children with autism.

An interdisciplinary team of mechanical engineers and autism experts at Vanderbilt University have developed NAO’s system to help children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

One example is Aiden, a young boy who has been diagnosed with ASD. In a report from the university, NAO is described as a “front man” for an elaborate system of cameras, sensors, and computers designed specifically to help children like Aiden learn how to “coordinate their attention with other people and objects in their environment.”

 Watch Vanderbilt’s video on NAO:

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This basic social skill is called joint attention. While most children typically learn this skill naturally, children with autism have difficulty mastering it and that inability can “compound into a variety of learning difficulties as they age.”

According to a March research report, researchers found that children with ASD paid more attention to the robot and followed its instructions as well as they did those of a human therapist in standard exercises used to develop joint attention skill.

Researchers at Vanderbilt think that robots could play a “crucial role” in helping the growing number of children diagnosed with ASD. The Centers for Disease Control released new figures estimating that today, 1 in 50 children have been diagnosed with ASD.

“This is the first real world test of whether intelligent adaptive systems can make an impact on autism,” said team member Zachary Warren, director of the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) in an interview with Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center.

For more information on how NAO is programmed for ASD children, read the full story.

For more information on National Robotics Week, visit More details are also available on Twitter (@roboweek and #roboweek) and Facebook (

Follow Associate Editor Meris Stansbury on Twitter @eSN_Meris.

Meris Stansbury

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