New research suggests that children with autism could develop better social skills through interactions with social robots.
Research recently released by social robot developer RoboKind has discovered that children who suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorders show more social interaction during autism therapy after engaging with social robots than with other people.
Milo, a robot that interacts with elementary and middle school-aged children with autism, was created in an effort to teach research-based behaviors and responses. He was found to interact with these children in such a way that encourages the growth of social and emotional skills.
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.”
Research also suggests that such robots could help students with autism develop and learn more about social skills, writes Rebecca Lundberg for ESchoolNews.
“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.”
RoboKind is not the only company to create such robots. Hanson Robot owner and former Disney imagineer David Hanson created Zeno, a robot that researchers believe helps with the early diagnosis and treatment of autism.
Traditionally, childhood autism has been diagnosed through social interaction and speech exercises. However, Zeno can interact with children before they are able to speak through nonverbal interactions such as body movement and facial expressions.
Zeno can be further used after diagnosis to encourage social interactions. While human interactions can be frightening for a child with autism, Zeno looks human, but is still obviously not, making communication a more comfortable idea for such children.
A similar robot, Kaspar, built by Kerstin Dautenhahn, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Hertfordshire, was built with no eyebrows in an effort to be “minimally expressive.” This design trait allows children with autism to better understand the human face.
Dautenhahn said she she believes such robots can be used by all children, not just those with autism.
“A robot can sing, move and point to its body parts. You had children in class who were too shy to sing or smile, but with the robot next to them they realised they could do it.”
It is estimated that 1 in 68 children in the United States are affected by autism.