Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 45, Issue 12, pp 3862–3869 | Cite as

Brief Report: A Pilot Summer Robotics Camp to Reduce Social Anxiety and Improve Social/Vocational Skills in Adolescents with ASD

  • Juhi R. Kaboski
  • Joshua John Diehl
  • Jane Beriont
  • Charles R. Crowell
  • Michael Villano
  • Kristin Wier
  • Karen Tang
Brief Report


This pilot study evaluated a novel intervention designed to reduce social anxiety and improve social/vocational skills for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The intervention utilized a shared interest in robotics among participants to facilitate natural social interaction between individuals with ASD and typically developing (TD) peers. Eight individuals with ASD and eight TD peers ages 12–17 participated in a weeklong robotics camp, during which they learned robotic facts, actively programmed an interactive robot, and learned “career” skills. The ASD group showed a significant decrease in social anxiety and both groups showed an increase in robotics knowledge, although neither group showed a significant increase in social skills. These initial findings suggest that this approach is promising and warrants further study.


Autism spectrum disorder Intervention Treatment Robotics Vocational Social skills 



The study was supported in part by the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, the Career Center, and the Glynn Family Honors program at the University of Notre Dame. We would like to thank Heidi Miller, B. S. W., for overseeing many crucial tasks involved in recruitment of participants and data entry. We would also like to thank the following research assistants who conscientiously carried out a wide range of tasks at various stages of the project: Tara Crown, Catherine Grace Connolly, Theresa Gorman, Kailey Kawalec, Whitney McWherter, Megan Sullivan, Haley Van Steenwyk, Michelle Won, and Julaine Zenk. We would like to thank the children and families who have contributed their time to this research.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest, and received no monetary compensation or had any affiliation with robotics companies as part of this study.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.Google Scholar
  2. Bass, J., & Mulick, J. (2007). Social play skill enhancement of children with autism using peers and siblings as therapists. Psychology in the Schools, 7(44), 727–735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bell, S., & Morgan, S. (2000). Children’s attitudes and behavioral intentions toward a peer presented as obese: Does a medical explanation for the obesity make a difference? Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 25(3), 137–145.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bellini, S., Peters, J. K., Benner, L., & Hopf, A. (2007). A meta-analysis of school-based social skills interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders. Remedial and Special Education, 28(3), 153–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bolte, E., & Diehl, J. J. (2013). Measurement tools and target symptoms/skills used to assess treatment response in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(11), 2491–2501.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Dautenhahn, K., & Werry, I. (2004). Towards interactive robots in autism therapy: Background motivation, and challenges. Pragmatics and Cognition, 12, 1–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Diehl, J. J., Crowell, C. R., Villano, M., Wier, K., Tang, K., & Riek, L. (2014). The clinical applications of robots in the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In V. B. Patel, V. R. Preedy, & C. R. Martin (Eds.), A comprehensive guide to autism. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Diehl, J. J., Schmitt, L., Crowell, C. R., & Villano, M. (2012). The clinical use of robots for children with autism spectrum disorders: A critical review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(1), 249–262.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Feil-Seifer, D., & Matarić, M. J. (2009). Toward socially assistive robotics for augmenting interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders. Experimental Robotics, 54, 201–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gillott, A., Furniss, F., & Walter, A. (2001). Anxiety in high-functioning children with autism. Autism, 5(3), 277–286.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Gresham, F., & Elliott, S. N. (2008). Social skills improvement system (SSIS) rating scales. Bloomington, MN: Pearson Assessments.Google Scholar
  12. Hendricks, D. (2010). Employment and adults with autism spectrum disorders: Challenges and strategies for success. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32(2), 125–134. doi: 10.3233/JVR-2010-0502.Google Scholar
  13. Kasari, C., Rotheram-Fuller, E., Locke, J., & Gulsrud, A. (2012). Making the connection: Randomized controlled trial of social skills at school for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 53(4), 431–439. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02493.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Koegel, L. K., Kuriakose, S., Singh, A. K., & Koegel, R. L. (2012). Improving generalization of peer socialization gains in inclusive school settings using initiations training. Behavior Modification, 36(3), 361–377. doi: 10.1177/0145445512445609.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. La Greca, A. M., & Lopez, N. (1998). Social anxiety among adolescents: Linkages with peer relations and friendships. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26(2), 83–94. doi: 10.1023/A:1022684520514.
  16. La Greca, A. M., & Stone, W. L. (1993). Social anxiety scale for children-revised: Factor structure and concurrent validity. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 22(1), 17–27. doi: 10.1207/s15374424jccp2201_2.
  17. Locke, J., Ishijima, E., Kasari, C., & London, N. (2010). Loneliness, friendship quality and the social networks of adolescents with high-functioning autism in an inclusive school setting. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 10(2), 74–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lord, C., Rutter, M., DiLavore, P. C., Risi, S., Gotham, K., & Bishop, S. (2012). Autism diagnostic observation schedule, Second Edition: ADOS-2. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  19. Maheady, L., Harper, G., & Mallette, B. (2001). Peer-mediated instruction and interventions and students with mild disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 1(22), 4–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McConnell, S. (2002). Interventions to facilitate social interaction for young children with autism: Review of available research and recommendations for educational intervention and future research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 5(32), 351–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Millea, M. A., Shea, N. M., & Diehl, J. J. (2013). Understanding the interaction of temperament and social skills in the development of social anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, S3(002), 1–7.Google Scholar
  22. Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A. M., Marder, C., Nagle, K., Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The post-high school outcomes of young adults with disabilities up to 8 years after high school: A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2011-3005). National Center for Special Education Research.Google Scholar
  23. Orsmond, G., Krauss, M., & Seltzer, M. (2004). Peer relationships and social and recreational activities among adolescents and adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34(3), 245–256.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Potter, P., & Roberts, M. (1984). Children’s perceptions of chronic illness: The roles of disease symptoms, cognitive development, and information. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 9(1), 13–27.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Rao, P. A., Beidel, D. C., & Murray, M. J. (2008). Social skills interventions for children with Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism: A review and recommendations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(2), 353–361. doi: 10.1007/s10803-007-0402-4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Rosenbaum, P., Armstrong, R., & King, S. (1988). Determinants of children’s attitudes toward disability: A review of evidence. Children’s Health Care, 17(1), 32–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rutter, M., Bailey, A., & Lord, C. (2003). The social communication questionnaire: Manual. Los Angeles: Manual Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  28. Ryan, K. (1981). Developmental differences in reactions to the physically disabled. Human Development, 24(4), 240–256.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Scassellati, B. (2007). How social robots will help us diagnose, treat, and understand autism. Robotics Research, 28, 552–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schall, C. (2010). Positive behavior support: Supporting adults with autism spectrum disorders in the workplace. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32(2), 109–115.Google Scholar
  31. Semel, E., Wiig, E. H., & Secord, W. A. (2003). Clinical evaluation of language fundamentals (4th ed.). San Antonio: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  32. Shattuck, P. T., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., Orsmond, I. G., Bolt, D., Kring, S., et al. (2007). Change in autism symptoms and maladaptive behaviors in adolescents and adults with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(9), 1735–1747.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Shtayermman, O. (2007). Peer victimization in adolescents and young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: A link to depressive symptomatology, anxiety symptomatology and suicidal ideation. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 30(3), 87–107. doi: 10.1080/01460860701525089.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Sperry, L., Neitzel, J., & Engelhardt-Wells, K. (2010). Peer-mediated instruction and intervention strategies for students with autism spectrum disorders. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 54(4), 256–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sterling, L., Dawson, G., Estes, A., & Greenson, J. (2008). Characteristics associated with presence of depressive symptoms in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(6), 1011–1018.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Wainer, J., Ferrari, E., Dautenhahn, K., & Robins, B. (2010). The effectiveness of using a robotics class to foster collaboration among groups of children with autism in an exploratory study. Personal Ubiquitous Computing, 14, 445–455. doi: 10.1007/s00779-009-0266-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Webb, B. J., Miller, S. P., Pierce, T. B., Strawser, S., & Jones, W. P. (2004). Effects of social skill instruction for high-functioning adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19(1), 53–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wechsler, D. (Ed.). (2011). Wechsler abbreviated scale of intelligence (2nd ed.). San Antonio, TX: Pearson.Google Scholar
  39. White, S. W., Koenig, K., & Scahill, L. (2007). Social skills development in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review of the intervention research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(10), 1858–1868. doi: 10.1007/s10803-006-0320-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. White, S. W., & Roberson-Nay, R. (2009). Anxiety, social deficits, and loneliness in youth with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(7), 1006–1013.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juhi R. Kaboski
    • 1
  • Joshua John Diehl
    • 1
  • Jane Beriont
    • 1
  • Charles R. Crowell
    • 1
  • Michael Villano
    • 1
  • Kristin Wier
    • 1
  • Karen Tang
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Children and FamiliesUniversity of Notre DameSouth BendUSA

Personalised recommendations