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A Guide to Using Robots for Autism

February 1, 2022


There has been increasing research based on robots for autism and the benefits that technology can have in the world of neurodivergence. Many parents, caregivers, and technicians are becoming increasingly interested in the skills that these machines could potentially support.

The possibilities to help improve interactions with children with autism and their environment are a driving factor to robotic technology. This article will consider whether bots could become a key education tool for children on the spectrum.

A Guide to Using Robots for Autism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/using-robots-guide/

How can robots help autistic children?

Supporting target behaviors such as increased eye contact and social skills used everyday in life are a key focus in the development of educational robots, as autistic children generally have a hard time with social and emotional skills.

Some products are even on the way to being programmed based on the needs of one particular child at a time. That individuality could help shape the way a machine is used and target specific needs.

Is technology beneficial for individuals on the spectrum?

As technologists develop products with the ability to specify needs and areas of growth, lessons using bots have more potential to run smoothly. However, there are already tech-based products on the market that provide tools and exercises for autistic learners.

With many technology options, teachers and/or parents can choose what skill they would like the child to work on, like communication. In this example, a  robot could perhaps use a role-playing exercise to help the child practice back and forth speech.

There is research available that lists specific reasons social robots for children with autism spectrum disorder are beneficial (we’ll discuss some of these below). Although researchers are still conducting real-life interactions and learning, these social robots could improve alongside these children.

Autistic children have better engagement and focus with robots

In an article published by researchers at University College London and other academics, titled, Educators’ Views on Using Humanoid Robots With Autistic Learners in Special Education Settings in England, autistic students interacted well when it was time to practice an existing goal with a robot. There is still research being conducted based on learning a new goal with the social robot.

Due to bots having a certain range of facial expressions, it is thought that it may not be as intimidating for children to practice eye contact and learn using social robotics. Along with better eye contact, their interactions with the robots could indicate they are understanding what they are learning about.

The researchers suggested robotic interaction could potentially help children on the spectrum relate more with the world around them, and developing technology as well as its accessibility further will mean more children could benefit.

Autistic children know what to expect from robots

In the same research study, it was stated that the machines provided consistent and regular responses, interactions, and communication with the children. The communication aided the children’s education, as well as supporting social skills goals created for their time with the robot.

Eventually, the need for the robot to be at the session started declining, and learning more human interactions through technicians could take the place as a child progressed through their sessions.


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What are the advancements of robot technology in the field of autism?

While there are only a few bots for autism currently available, there are some on the market. There are many thoughts and opinions as to how robotic technology could help improve many of the skills and target behaviors for autistic children.

Some of these are still concepts that are being tested and researched, while others are being included and found in the technology already available. At the moment, much of the advancements and research being conducted is a mystery to the public, but we’ve listed some ideas below.  

Technology could be a stepping stone to more human interaction

As previously mentioned, many individuals with autism spectrum disorders can find it uncomfortable exhibiting facial expressions, body language, and eye contact. Machines could provide comfortable stepping stones to practice.

Using robotic technology with autistic students could help with transitions. It could start from individual time with the robot to more direct human contact.

There could be specific goals and time frames children can relate with the machines

It is hoped that technology will develop further to have more specific target behaviors and goals in mind. With an integrated target behavior preset, these bots could help not only behaviorally but also with the child’s education.

The robot could be specialized for one single child

As technology advances, bots could be very specific and have the needs of the individual programmed. That would also mean that tracking progress and goals met could be preset in the robot for that child.

What is the benefit of robots for autistic students?

There are many potential benefits to using robotic learning technology for autistic children, as long as the machines are used properly and there are preset goals in place. 

Different educators have different views on the topic but the general consensus is social interactions with machines could help children with learning about the world around them and how to use different social skills. Bolstering communication and body language to help the student with human interaction seem to be the key areas of focus. 

What happens if my child likes the robot more than other children?

Some caregivers worry their children would have more interest in interacting with the machine over people if they started using robots. Although studies suggest that this could happen, keeping notes of how the child is responding will help keep a tab on this. 

In the study, Educators’ Views on Using Humanoid Robots With Autistic Learners in Special Education Settings in England, groups were formed to discuss these concerns. In one study, while discussing these worries, one of the participants summed it all up by saying they felt as long as the child had regular interactions in their everyday lives with teachers and other students, this would be of less concern.

How can these bots help in the classroom?

The same study asked teachers in special education schools across England, UK, to discuss the future of robot technology, as well as their views on how it will impact education.

Overall, they felt that these machines could be beneficial as “flexible tools for them and their teams”. With the flexibility of usage comes the possibility of implementing goals a little smoother.

How do educators feel about robotic technology in their classroom?

The teachers liked the idea of being able to tailor lesson plans to necessary social skills. Then the skills that need to be practiced and learned could be implemented using the support of robotic technology.

They would also be able to target behaviors, such as only talking about the child’s current interest. This would be done by using role-playing and other types of social interactions with the bot.

Overall, schools in the UK involved in the study viewed technology as being a flexible tool that the teacher could use to varying degrees in different situations.

How much do robots for autism cost?

When it comes to the cost for this up-and-coming technology, it can be anywhere from around $500 to $10,000 and that is for the unit.

There are subscriptions available for some bots also. Below are the websites for five popular social robots available right now.

Can this technology work for my child?

It is hard to say which children will succeed with the support of robotic technology. There are studies continuously being done looking into robots, social success for kids, and the future of education.

I recommend that interested parents check out the links in this article. Also, talking to therapists, teachers, and other parents is worthwhile to learn what might work.

This is a new technology and, as such, continuous research and testing will come with differing results for different people. It is exciting to see where this technology could lead and how it might be beneficial for the future of autistic individuals that use it.

References

Ainger, E., Alcorn, A., Charisi, V., Mantinioti, S., Pellicano, E., Petrovic, S., Schadenburg, B., & Tavassoli, T. (2019). Educators’ Views on Using Humanoid Robots With Autistic Learners in Special Education Settings in England.   https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frobt.2019.00107/full

Crowell, C., Diehl, J., Schmitt, L., & Villano, M. (2013). The Clinical Use of Robots for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Critical Review.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3223958/The Aisoy Team. (2021). The 5 social robots most used for helping children with autism. https://aisoy.com/blogs/blog/the-5-social-robots-most-used-for-helping-children-with-autism

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