A Yale University study has found that children with autism spectrum disorder can significantly improve social communication skills after just one month of daily interventions with an autonomous social robot.

The study followed 12 children with ASD undertaking 30 minutes of work a day for a month with a robot designed to guide the child through a series of social skill games. The robot's programming is specifically designed to adapt to each individual child's strengths and weaknesses, altering the difficulty of tasks from day to day to optimize the learning outcomes.

"The children showed improved performance across the board," says Brian Scassellati, lead researcher on the study. "This was more than we had hoped; not only did the children and parents still enjoy working with the robot after a month, but the children were showing improvements that persisted even when the robots were not around."

One of the interesting observations coming out of the new research is the positive way children with ASD respond to robots. Scassellati suggests these children feel much more comfortable interacting with robots, as they remove all the stigmas that have come to be associated with human interactions.

"These are kids who have years of experience with the idea that social interaction is challenging and something they don't understand," says Scassellati. "When they interact with the robot, though, it triggers social responses but it doesn't trigger a lot of the other baggage they've come to associate with social interaction."

This research is part of a new wave of study that is using state of the art technologies to help autistic children improve their social skills. Another research project last year revealed an intriguing app that helps coach autistic children in everyday conversations using the heads-up-display in Google Glass.

This new study is much more interested in the benefits of robot-assisted long-term coaching. As well as offering the benefit of bypassing any baggage associated with human interactions, this autonomous robot intervention allows for a system that supports and augments any work with other clinicians and teachers. Scassellati suggests further longer-term study will be necessary to better understand the benefits of the program but these results from just one month of work bodes well for future robot-assisted interventions helping autistic children develop social skills.

The new study was published in the journal Science Robotics.

Source: Yale News