A Robot-Based Play-Drama Intervention May Improve the Joint Attention and Functional Play Behaviors of Chinese-Speaking Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Study

  • Wing-Chee SoEmail author
  • Chun-Ho Cheng
  • Wan-Yi Lam
  • Ying Huang
  • Ka-Ching Ng
  • Hiu-Ching Tung
  • Wing Wong
Original Paper


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have deficits in joint attention and play behaviors. We examined whether a robot-based play-drama intervention would promote these skills. Chinese-speaking preschool children were randomly assigned to an intervention group (N = 12) and a waitlist control group (N = 11). Children in the intervention group watched three robot dramas and engaged in role-plays with both robots and human experimenters over the course of 9 weeks. There were significant improvements in joint attention initiations and functional play behaviors in the intervention group. Parents of this group of children also reported less severe social impairments. It was therefore concluded that a robot-based play-drama intervention can enhance the joint attention and play behaviors of children with ASD.


Autism Social robots Intervention Early childhood Joint attention Functional play 



This research has been fully supported by grants awarded to the first author from the Office of Research and Knowledge Transfer Services (ORKTS) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund (SIE Fund) (Project No. KPF8146003). We are grateful for the help of our research assistants, Kit-Yi Wong, Fanny Lee, and Yik-Yu Mok. Special thanks go to all the participating children and their parents for their help and dedication to education.

Author Contributions

WC designed the study. WC and CH wrote the article. WY programmed the robots. TW, WW, YH, KC, HC, and WW coded the data. All of the authors were affiliated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, S.A.R., at the time of the study All authors are now affiliated with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, S.A.R.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee (Survey and Behavioural Research Ethics Reference No. 14600817) and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational PsychologyThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong S.A.R.

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