Social robots could better engage children with autism, research says

Preliminary research indicates that students with autism might develop stronger social skills via interaction with social robots

robots-autismMilo visits elementary and middle school-aged children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders in order to teach research-based behavior and responses. He engages in a way that helps children better develop and enhance social and emotional skills.

He also happens to be a robot.

Social robot developer RoboKind recently released preliminary research results regarding Milo and Robots4Autism that indicate children affected Autism Spectrum Disorders are more engaged in autism therapy when interacting with social robots than with other people.

Next page: What experts say about robots’ ability to engage students on the autism spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorders affect an estimated 1 in 68 children in the United States.

Dr. Pamela Rollins, associate professor of Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas, who presented the research at a National Press Club event, said, “I’ve witnessed children who struggle with social situations immediately connect with Milo and reveal skills they had never before exhibited in human-led therapy sessions.”

Rollins said children with autism who participated in the research demonstrated much more engagement with Milo present.

“When Milo was in the room, they’re completely engaged with [him],” she said.

The preliminary research also has implications for helping students with autism develop and learn more about social skills.

“The higher-functioning children treated Milo as if he was a friend. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are more engaged with Milo than with a therapist, especially under the robot-led condition. Children who are more engaged learn better, and this is really good news for our children with autism.”

View the presentation and Press Club event here.

Rollins’s background includes more than 30 years of research, education and clinical practice with children on the autism spectrum.

Rollins currently teaches graduate courses that focus on the assessment and treatment of children and Autism Spectrum Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas’s Callier Center for Communication Disorders. She received contributions from RoboKind, as well as funding from other outside sources, for her research.

Milo primarily focuses on four areas: emotional, social, conversation and relaxation.

The social robot’s curriculum is intended to help students adopt social skills using visual supports, social narratives and video modeling.

Milo is built with a high definition camera that allows him to view people, objects, motions, facial expressions and gestures.

In addition, an internal computer controls his movement, intelligence and teaching programs. Microphones listen to the children, respond and record. Sensors can sense touch, faces and motion.

The curriculum also includes consistent core vocabulary and improvement of a child’s understanding of emotions, relevant social cues, appropriate social responses and speaking from perspective.

To learn more about how the Robots4Autism intervention tool, visit the web page here.

Rebecca Lundberg is an editorial intern with eSchool Media.

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