Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 273–285 | Cite as

Using a Humanoid Robot as a Complement to Interventions for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: a Pilot Study

  • Lorenzo DesideriEmail author
  • Marco Negrini
  • Massimiliano Malavasi
  • Daniela Tanzini
  • Aziz Rouame
  • Maria Cristina Cutrone
  • Paola Bonifacci
  • Evert-Jan Hoogerwerf


Emerging evidence documents that social robots may increase motivation in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when participating in educational activities. This study reports on the results of a pilot test conducted in a public child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) aimed at exploring whether a social robot could increase engagement and learning achievement in two 9-year-old male children with ASD with accompanying intellectual disability, language and communication impairments, and low adaptive skills. Using an ABA1 single-case design, children participated in educational sessions targeting developmental and social skills (e.g., motor imitation, expressive/receptive language, spontaneous requests). The results indicated that interacting with a social robot enhanced engagement (d = 0.78) and goal achievement in one case (d = 2.19), and only goal achievement in the second case (d = 2). The results from the present investigation are discussed in light of their implications for the design of a more robust translational research protocol aimed at assessing the effectiveness of robot-based ASD intervention scenarios.


Robotics Autism spectrum disorder Human-robot interaction Education 



The authors wish to thank participants and their families for their invaluable contribution.

Author Contributions

LD, MN, MCC: designed the study. LD: performed data analyses and wrote the paper. MN: collaborated on data analyses and conducted the interventions. DT, MM, AR: collaborated for the design, staging, and writing up of the study. PB, EH: collaborated for the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

Funding Information

This study has been conducted in connection with the Educational Robotics for Students with Learning Disabilities (EDUROB) project (543577-LLP-1-2013-1-UK-KA3-KA3MP) and “Progetto di sviluppo e diffusione di competenze su Ausili Informatici e Tecnologie di supporto ai Disturbi della comunicazione nei Disturbi Pervasivi dello Sviluppo e della Disabilità Intellettiva” (Regione Emilia Romagna – Azienda USL Bologna).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent Statement

All parents of participating children signed a written informed consent.

Ethics Statement

The study was approved by the Ethical Committee of the Bologna Local Health Trust (Comitato Etico Interaziendale Bologna-Imola) and has been assigned number CE 16022.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Regional Centre for Assistive Technology, ASL BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  3. 3.AIAS BolognaBolognaItaly
  4. 4.UOSD Programma Integrato Disabilità e Salute, ASL BolognaBolognaItaly

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