Robotic assistants in therapy and education of children with autism: can a small humanoid robot help encourage social interaction skills?

Abstract

This article presents a longitudinal study with four children with autism, who were exposed to a humanoid robot over a period of several months. The longitudinal approach allowed the children time to explore the space of robot–human, as well as human–human interaction. Based on the video material documenting the interactions, a quantitative and qualitative analysis was conducted. The quantitative analysis showed an increase in duration of pre-defined behaviours towards the later trials. A qualitative analysis of the video data, observing the children’s activities in their interactional context, revealed further aspects of social interaction skills (imitation, turn-taking and role-switch) and communicative competence that the children showed. The results clearly demonstrate the need for, and benefits of, long-term studies in order to reveal the full potential of robots in the therapy and education of children with autism.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For detailed diagnostic criteria, the reader is referred to DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association, (1995).

  2. 2.

    We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting the term interaction profile analysis.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the teaching staff, parents, and children at Bentfield Primary school where the main study reported in this paper was carried out. Many thanks to the headteacher, Mr. Draper, for his continued support. Previous trials mentioned were conducted with the support of the carers and teachers at Colnbrook School and Radlett Lodge School. We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for very constructive and helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to B. Robins.

Appendices

Appendix 1

Varieties of interaction: The four children that participated in the trials showing unconstrained interactions with a small humanoid robot (Figs. 14, 15, 16, 17).

Fig. 14
figure14

E.M

Fig. 15
figure15

B.B

Fig. 16
figure16

B.S

Fig. 17
figure17

T.M

Appendix 2

The two different robot’s appearances used in the longitudinal study:

G—Robot with a ‘pretty Girl’ appearance.

P—Robot with a Plain appearance.

G&P—On these days, two sessions were conducted with the children, one using the robot with a ‘pretty girl’ appearance, and a second session with the robot in plain appearance. The combined results of these trials were used in the analysis of the data for that particular day.

Note, on certain days sessions with particular children were not possible (empty entry in Table below).

Child Day no.
1 8 50 60 92 94 99 101
E.M G G G G P G&P G&P P
B.B G G G   P G&P P P
T.M G   G   P G&P G&P  
B.S G G G G&P P P G&P G&P

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Robins, B., Dautenhahn, K., Boekhorst, R.T. et al. Robotic assistants in therapy and education of children with autism: can a small humanoid robot help encourage social interaction skills?. Univ Access Inf Soc 4, 105–120 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-005-0116-3

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Keywords

  • Autism therapy
  • Longitudinal study
  • Robotic assistant
  • Imitation
  • Social interaction