Skip to main content
Log in

Why Robots? A Survey on the Roles and Benefits of Social Robots in the Therapy of Children with Autism

  • Published:
International Journal of Social Robotics Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

This paper reviews the use of socially interactive robots to assist in the therapy of children with autism. The extent to which the robots were successful in helping the children in their social, emotional and communication deficits was investigated. Child–robot interactions were scrutinized with respect to the different target behaviors that are to be elicited from a child during therapy. These behaviors were thoroughly examined with respect to a child’s development needs. Most importantly, experimental data from the surveyed works were extracted and analysed in terms of the target behaviors and of how each robot was used during a therapy session to achieve these behaviors. The study concludes by categorizing the different therapeutic roles that these robots were observed to play, and highlights the important design features that enable them to achieve high levels of effectiveness in autism therapy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. However, in the soon to be published revised diagnostic criteria described in DSM-V [7], the term ASD is expected to replace PDD. Until then, both the terms are used and understood to mean the same.

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association. Task Force on DSM-IV (1993) DSM-IV draft criteria. Amer Psychiatric Pub, Arlington

    Google Scholar 

  2. The National Autistic Society. Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders—a guide for health professionals. http://www.autism.org.uk/working-with/health/patients-with-autism-spectrum-disorders-guidance-for-health-professionals.aspx. Accessed 4 Apr 2013

  3. Cashin A, Barker P (2009) The triad of impairment in autism revisited. J Child Adolesc Psychiatr Nurs 22(4):189–193

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Brookdale Care. Specialist Triad of impairments. http://www.brookdalecare.co.uk/what-is-autism#triad. Accessed 23 Jan 2013

  5. Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S (1999) ‘Obsessions’ in children with autism or Asperger syndrome. Content analysis in terms of core domains of cognition. Br J Psychiatry 175(5):484–490

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Wall K (2009) Autism and early years practice. Sage, Thousand Oaks

    Google Scholar 

  7. Johnson CP, Myers SM (2007) Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics 120(5):1183–1215

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. NICHY—National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. Autism spectrum disorders. http://nichcy.org/disability/specific/autism. Accessed 23 Jan 2013

  9. Grandin T, Scariano M (1996) Emergence: labeled autistic. Warner Books, New York

    Google Scholar 

  10. Grandin T (2006) Thinking in pictures: and other reports from my life with autism. Bloomsbury Publishing, London

    Google Scholar 

  11. Kids Health. An autism spectrum disorder. http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/brain/asperger.html?tracking=P_RelatedArticle. Accessed 23 Jan 2013

  12. Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center. Understanding autism—the basics. http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/understanding-autism-basics. Accessed 23 Jan 2013

  13. Happé F, Ronald A (2008) The ‘fractionable autism triad’: a review of evidence from behavioral, genetic, cognitive and neural research. Neuropsychol Rev 18(4):287–304

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. NYU Child Study Center. Autistic disorder and Asperger’s disorder (pervasive developmental disorders): questions & answers. http://www.aboutourkids.org/families/disorders_treatments/az_disorder_guide/autistic_disorder_aspergers_disorder_pervasive_deve_1. Accessed 23 Jan 2013

  15. Baio J (2012) Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders: autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 14 sites, United States, 2008. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, Surveill Summ 61(3):1–19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Google Scholar 

  16. Kim YS, Leventhal BL, Koh YJ, Fombonne E, Laska E, Lim EC, Cheon KA, Kim SJ, Kim YK, Lee H, Song DH, Grinker RR (2011) Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in a total population sample. Am J Psychiatr 168(9):904–912

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) (2013) Frequently asked questions—on autism. http://autism.org.sg/main/faq.php. Accessed 23 Jan 2013

  18. Autism Science Foundation (2012) How common is autism? http://www.autismsciencefoundation.org/what-is-autism/how-common-is-autism. Accessed 23 Jan 2013

  19. Hughes V (2011) Researchers track down autism rates across the globe. Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. http://sfari.org/news-and-opinion/news/2011/researchers-track-down-autism-rates-across-the-globe. Accessed 23 Jan 2013

  20. Al-Farsi YM, Al-Sharbati MM, Al-Farsi OA, Al-Shafaee MS, Brooks DR, Waly MI (2011) Brief report: prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders in the Sultanate of Oman. J Autism Dev Disord 41(6):821–825

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Baron-Cohen S, Scott FJ, Allison C, Williams J, Bolton P, Matthews FE, Brayne C (2009) Prevalence of autism-spectrum conditions: UK school-based population study. Br J Psychiatry 194(6):500–509

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Fombonne E, Zakarian R, Bennett A, Meng L, McLean-Heywood D (2006) Pervasive developmental disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: prevalence and links with immunizations. Pediatrics 118(1):e139–e150

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Kawamura Y, Takahashi O, Ishii T (2008) Reevaluating the incidence of pervasive developmental disorders: impact of elevated rates of detection through implementation of an integrated system of screening in Toyota, Japan. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 62(2):152–159

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Oliveira G, Ataíde A, Marques C, Miguel TS, Coutinho AM, Mota-Vieira L, Goncalves E, Lopes NM, Rodrigues V, Carmona da Mota H (2007) Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorder in Portugal: prevalence, clinical characterization, and medical conditions. Dev Med Child Neurol 49(10):726–733

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Parner ET, Thorsen P, Dixon G, de Klerk N, Leonard H, Nassar N, Bourke J, Bower C, Glasson EJ (2011) A comparison of autism prevalence trends in Denmark and Western Australia. J Autism Dev Disord 41(12):1601–1608

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Paula CS, Ribeiro SH, Fombonne E, Mercadante MT (2011) Brief report: prevalence of pervasive developmental disorder in Brazil: a pilot study. J Autism Dev Disord 41(12):1738–1742

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Fong T, Nourbakhsh I, Dautenhahn K (2003) A survey of socially interactive robots. Robot Auton Syst 42(3–4):143–166

    Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  28. Li H, Cabibihan JJ, Tan YK (2011) Towards an effective design of social robots. Int J Soc Robot 3(4):333–335

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Kozima H, Michalowski MP, Nakagawa C (2009) Keepon: a playful robot for research, therapy, and entertainment. Int J Soc Robot 1(1):3–18

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Welch KC, Lahiri U, Warren Z, Sarkar N (2010) An approach to the design of socially acceptable robots for children with autism spectrum disorders. Int J Soc Robot 2(4):391–403

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Fujimoto I, Matsumoto T, de Silva PRS, Kobayashi M, Higashi M (2011) Mimicking and evaluating human motion to improve the imitation skill of children with autism through a robot. Int J Soc Robot 3(4):349–357

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Schiavone G, Formica D, Taffoni F, Campolo D, Guglielmelli E, Keller F (2011) Multimodal ecological technology: from child’s social behavior assessment to child–robot interaction improvement. Int J Soc Robot 3(1):69–81

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Dillon G, Underwood J (2012) Computer mediated imaginative storytelling in children with autism. Int J Hum-Comput Stud 70(2):169–178

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Ferrari E, Robins B, Dautenhahn K (2009) Therapeutic and educational objectives in robot assisted play for children with autism. In: Proc of the 18th IEEE international symposium on robot and human interactive communication (RO-MAN), pp 108–114

    Google Scholar 

  35. Michaud F, Duquette A, Nadeau I (2003) Characteristics of mobile robotic toys for children with pervasive developmental disorders. In: Proc of the IEEE international conference on systems, man and cybernetics, pp 2938–2943

    Google Scholar 

  36. Giullian N, Ricks D, Atherton A, Colton M, Goodrich M, Brinton B (2010) Detailed requirements for robots in autism therapy. In: Proc of the IEEE international conference on systems man and cybernetics, pp 2595–2602

    Google Scholar 

  37. Woods S (2006) Exploring the design space of robots: children’s perspectives. Interact Comput 18(6):1390–1418

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Robins B, Otero N, Ferrari E, Dautenhahn K (2007) Eliciting requirements for a robotic toy for children with autism—results from user panels. In: Proc of the 16th IEEE international symposium on robot and human interactive communication (RO-MAN), pp 101–106

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  39. Hoa TD, Cabibihan JJ (2012) Cute and soft: baby steps in designing robots for children with autism. In: Proc of the workshop at SIGGRAPH, Asia, Singapore

    Google Scholar 

  40. Robins B, Dautenhahn K, Dubowski J (2006) Does appearance matter in the interaction of children with autism with a humanoid robot? Interact Stud 7(3):509–542

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Robins B, Dautenhahn K, Dickerson P (2009) From isolation to communication: a case study evaluation of robot assisted play for children with autism with a minimally expressive humanoid robot. In: Proc of the 2nd international conference on advances in computer–human interactions. IEEE Press, New York, pp 205–211

    Google Scholar 

  42. Kozima H, Nakagawa C (2006) Interactive robots as facilitators of children’s social development. In: Mobile robots towards new applications, pp 269–286

    Google Scholar 

  43. Robins B, Dautenhahn K, Boekhorst R, Billard A (2005) 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(2):105–120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Ricks DJ, Colton MB (2010) Trends and considerations in robot-assisted autism therapy. In: Proc of the IEEE international conference on robotics and automation (ICRA), pp 4354–4359

    Google Scholar 

  45. Kozima H, Nakagawa C, Yasuda Y (2007) Children–robot interaction: a pilot study in autism therapy. Prog Brain Res 164:385

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Duquette A, Michaud F, Mercier H (2008) Exploring the use of a mobile robot as an imitation agent with children with low-functioning autism. Auton Robots 24(2):147–157

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Michaud F, Larouche H, Larose F, Salter T, Duquette A, Mercier H, Lauria M (2007) Mobile robots engaging children in learning. In: Proc of the Canadian medical and biological engineering conference

    Google Scholar 

  48. Kozima H, Zlatev J (2000) An epigenetic approach to human–robot communication. In: Proc of the 9th IEEE international workshop on robot and human interactive communication (RO-MAN). IEEE Press, New York, pp 346–351

    Google Scholar 

  49. Dautenhahn K (2003) Roles and functions of robots in human society: implications from research in autism therapy. Robotica 21(4):443–452

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Costa S, Resende J, Soares F, Ferreira M, Santos C, Moreira F (2009) Applications of simple robots to encourage social receptiveness of adolescents with autism. In: Proc of the international conference of the engineering in medicine and biology society. IEEE Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  51. Costa S, Santos C, Soares F, Ferreira M, Moreira F (2010) Promoting interaction amongst autistic adolescents using robots. In: Proc of the international conference of the engineering in medicine and biology society (EMBC). IEEE Press, New York, pp 3856–3859

    Google Scholar 

  52. Sheridan TB (1992) Telerobotics, automation, and human supervisory control. MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  53. Boccanfuso L, O’Kane JM (2011) CHARLIE: an adaptive robot design with hand and face tracking for use in autism therapy. Int J Soc Robot 3(4):337–347

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Mazzei D, Billeci L, Armato A, Lazzeri N, Cisternino A, Pioggia G, Igliozzi R, Muratori F, Ahluwalia A, De Rossi D (2010) The FACE of autism. In: Proc of the 18th IEEE international symposium on robot and human interactive communication (RO-MAN), pp 791–796

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  55. Meltzoff AN, Brooks R, Shon AP, Rao RPN (2010) “Social” robots are psychological agents for infants: a test of gaze following. Neural Netw 23(8):966–972

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Marti P (2010) Perceiving while being perceived. Int J Des 4(2):27–38

    Google Scholar 

  57. Wood LJ, Dautenhahn K, Rainer A, Robins B, Lehmann H, Syrdal DS (2013) Robot-mediated interviews—how effective is a humanoid robot as a tool for interviewing young children? PLoS ONE 8(3):e59448

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Breazeal C, Scassellati B (1999) A context-dependent attention system for a social robot. In: Proc of the international joint conference on artificial intelligence, pp 1146–1151

    Google Scholar 

  59. Breazeal C, Aryananda L (2002) Recognition of affective communicative intent in robot-directed speech. Auton Robots 12(1):83–104

    Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  60. Dautenhahn K (2007) Socially intelligent robots: dimensions of human–robot interaction. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B, Biol Sci 362(1480):679–704

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Dautenhahn K, Werry I, Salter T, Boekhorst R (2003) Towards adaptive autonomous robots in autism therapy: varieties of interactions. In: Proc of the IEEE international symposium on computational intelligence in robotics and automation, pp 577–582

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  62. Dautenhahn K, Werry I (2004) Towards interactive robotics in autism therapy. Pragmat Cogn 12(1):1–35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Costa S, Soares F, Santos C, Ferreira MJ, Moreira F, Pereira AP, Cunha F (2011) An approach to promote social and communication behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders: robot based intervention. In: Proc of the IEEE international symposium on robot and human interactive communication (RO-MAN). IEEE Press, New York, pp 101–106

    Google Scholar 

  64. Gillesen J, Barakova E, Huskens B, Feijs L (2011) From training to robot behavior: towards custom scenarios for robotics in training programs for ASD. In: Proc of the IEEE international conference on rehabilitation robotics (ICORR). IEEE Press, New York, pp 1–7

    Google Scholar 

  65. Marti P, Pollini A, Rullo A, Shibata T (2005) Engaging with artificial pets. In: Proc of the conference on European association of cognitive ergonomics, pp 99–106

    Google Scholar 

  66. Shibata T, Kawaguchi Y, Wada K (2012) Investigation on people living with seal robot at home. Int J Soc Robot 4(1):53–63

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Salter T, Dautenhahn K, Boekhorst R (2006) Learning about natural human–robot interaction styles. Robot Auton Syst 54(2):127–134

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Billard A, Robins B, Nadel J, Dautenhahn K (2007) Building robota, a mini-humanoid robot for the rehabilitation of children with autism. Assist Technol 19(1):37–49

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Goodrich MA, Colton M, Brinton B, Fujiki M, Atherton AJ, Robinson L, Ricks D, Maxfield MH, Acerson A (2012) Incorporating a robot into an autism therapy team. IEEE Intell Syst 27(2):52

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Ruffman T, Garnham W, Rideout P (2001) Social understanding in autism: eye gaze as a measure of core insights. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 42(8):1083–1094

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Werry I, Dautenhahn K, Ogden B, Harwin W (2001) Can social interaction skills be taught by a social agent? The role of a robotic mediator in autism therapy. In: Cognitive technology: instruments of mind, pp 57–74

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  72. DeMyer MK, Barton S, Alpern GD, Kimberlin C, Allen J, Yang E, Steele R (1974) The measured intelligence of autistic children. J Autism Dev Disord 4(1):42–60

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Pioggia G, Sica M, Ferro M, Igliozzi R, Muratori F, Ahluwalia A, De Rossi D (2007) Human–robot interaction in autism: FACE, an android-based social therapy. In: Proc of the 16th IEEE international symposium on robot and human interactive communication (RO-MAN), pp 605–612

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  74. Robins B, Dautenhahn K, Te Boekhorst R, Billard A (2004) Effects of repeated exposure to a humanoid robot on children with autism. Paper presented at the Cambridge workshop on, universal access and assistive technology (CWUAAT)

  75. Shamsuddin S, Yussof H, Ismail LI, Mohamed S, Hanapiah FA, Zahari NI (2012) Initial response in HRI-a case study on evaluation of child with autism spectrum disorders interacting with a humanoid robot Nao. Proc Eng 41:1448–1455

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Campolo D, Taffoni F, Schiavone G, Laschi C, Keller F, Guglielmelli E (2008) A novel technological approach towards the early diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders. In: Proc of the international conference of the engineering in medicine and biology society. IEEE Press, New York, pp 4875–4878

    Google Scholar 

  77. Scassellati B (2007) How social robots will help us to diagnose, treat, and understand autism. In: Thrun S, Brooks R, Durrant-Whyte H (eds) Robotics research. Springer tracts in advanced robotics, vol 28, pp 552–563

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  78. Scassellati B (2005) Quantitative metrics of social response for autism diagnosis. In: Proc of the international workshop on robot and human interactive communication (RO-MAN), pp 585–590

    Google Scholar 

  79. Scassellati B, Crick C, Gold K, Kim E, Shic F, Sun G (2006) Social development. IEEE Comput Intell Mag 1(3):41–47

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Dickstein-Fischer L, Alexander E, Yan X, Su H, Harrington K, Fischer GS (2011) An affordable compact humanoid robot for autism spectrum disorder interventions in children. In: Proc of the international conference of the engineering in medicine and biology society (EMBS), pp 5319–5322

    Google Scholar 

  81. Ranatunga I, Torres NA, Patterson R, Bugnariu N, Stevenson M, Popa DO (2012) RoDiCA: a human–robot interaction system for treatment of childhood autism spectrum disorders. In: Proc of the 5th international conference on pervasive technologies related to assistive environments

    Google Scholar 

  82. Torres NA, Clark N, Ranatunga I, Popa D (2012) Implementation of interactive arm playback behaviors of social robot Zeno for autism spectrum disorder therapy. In: Proc of the 5th international conference on pervasive technologies related to assistive environments

    Google Scholar 

  83. Lehmann H, Iacono I, Robins B, Marti P, Dautenhahn K (2011) ‘Make it move’: playing cause and effect games with a robot companion for children with cognitive disabilities. In: Proc of the 29th annual European conference on cognitive ergonomics. ACM, New York, pp 105–112

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  84. World Health Organization (1993) The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioral disorders: diagnostic criteria for research

    Google Scholar 

  85. Besio S (2008) Analysis of critical factors involved in using interactive robots for education and therapy of children with disabilities. UNI Service, Trento

    Google Scholar 

  86. Cabibihan JJ, Wing-Chee S, Pramanik S (2012) Human-recognizable robotic gestures. IEEE Trans Auton Ment Dev 4(4):305–314

    Article  Google Scholar 

  87. Cabibihan JJ, So W-C, Saj S, Zhang Z (2012) Telerobotic pointing gestures shape human spatial cognition. Int J Soc Robot 4(3):263–272

    Article  Google Scholar 

  88. Cabibihan JJ, Pattofatto S, Jomaa M, Benallal A, Carrozza MC (2009) Towards humanlike social touch for sociable robotics and prosthetics: comparisons on the compliance, conformance and hysteresis of synthetic and human fingertip skins. Int J Soc Robot 1(1):29–40

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National University of Singapore Academic Research Funding Grant No. R-263-000-A21-112.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to John-John Cabibihan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cabibihan, JJ., Javed, H., Ang, M. et al. Why Robots? A Survey on the Roles and Benefits of Social Robots in the Therapy of Children with Autism. Int J of Soc Robotics 5, 593–618 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12369-013-0202-2

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12369-013-0202-2

Keywords

Navigation