robots autism

How a new model of autism treatment uses robots

An occupational therapist and author shares her method for helping kids with autism develop the abilities they need for school and life.

One in 68 children in the U.S. has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As an occupational therapist, I’ve seen firsthand how ASD makes life-changing impacts on a child’s ability to succeed in life and school, builds barriers for teachers trying to provide instruction, and creates hardship for families.

To help these students and their families, I created the Margow Model, which teaches practitioners, educators, and parents how to manage the difficulties experienced by the ASD-affected child using integrated, everyday strategies during the school day and home life.

The model also supports a combination of sensory integration, cognitive, and motor control theories to promote neuroplasticity. As these changes become functional skills that can be observed and measured through neuroimaging technologies such as QEEG, the intervention begins to integrate task-oriented strategies that have been shown through research to be effective for children with ASD.

Before addressing functional goals like activities of daily living and academic goals, there are four levels of goal development to activate:

1. Sensory processing includes the ability to receive and process visual, auditory, touch, proprioceptive (body position), and vestibular (balance and coordination) information. Attention, behaviors, and peer interactions are affected by the child’s ability to process stimuli. The goal is to create a sense of safety.

2. Visual presentation is the ability to interpret and use what’s seen in the environment, including cortical visual fields for focused tasks like writing and reading, and peripheral visual fields for navigating the environment.

3. Motor coordination is the ability of multiple muscles to work together simultaneously to perform movements. Motor planning is the capacity to envision, organize, sequence, and execute unfamiliar or complex body actions in a coordinated way, and is critical to efficient motor coordination.

4. Communication requires interpreting non-verbal and verbal cues to process and interact through expressive and receptive language. Integrated communication skills are necessary for effective interaction and socialization.

These fundamental steps are rolled out as part of a “step-up” program, as show in the diagram below.

(Next page: Assistive therapy tools and a real classroom example)

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