How possible is it for robots to teach children with autism – individuals who are known to be socially inept generally?Kids affected by autism encounter various degrees of difficulty in socializing. Looking another human in the eye is not always the easiest thing for them to do. Performing far more engaging things with other members of the specie is a task so complicated for a person with autism that it is something that has to be learned. It’s quite ironic then that scientists would even consider an automaton, to do the teaching job for something that is essentially a “human” thing.
There are many sci-fi movies that show humans socializing with robots just as they ordinarily would with their human counterparts. It’s not always true in real situations, though; robotics has not reached that level yet. Recently however, a research is making headway in designing robots that could practically teach social skills to individuals who have Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD.
Dr. Pamela Rollins, an associate professor and researcher at UT Dallas, is currently collaborating with robotics engineers and autism specialists. A program is in the works at Robokind establishment to design Robots4Autism, which would basically employ an AI or artificially intelligent robot with a complete array of facial expressions and helpful vocabularies to interrelate with children who have autism.
Undeniably, autistic children have varying special needs and usually have great difficulty demonstrating established social standards of affection, like hugging or smiling. Thus, without proper special intervention, this difficulty will stay on for the rest of their lives.
According to Dr. Rollins, this less threatening interaction with AI robots have shown promising results in that special children begin communicating with the AIs even when they’re not conversing with other individuals. This process of social interaction could well help autistics check and improve their emotions, social behaviours, and healthy relations with other people.
For instance, at the start of a session the robot first gives details of a certain social situation to the child. They then proceeds to watch the depicted situation on video together, where the robot further provides explanations on the correct behaviours demonstrated by the players.
The robot is programmed to detect feelings of frustration in the child with autism, and to employ a standard action to calm and address the agitation. Lessons are given for various social situations with emphasis on how children normally act in the given circumstances. These include prompts and appropriate greetings or gestures.
Why would a robot be preferred for teaching autistic children over human teachers or coaches? Wouldn’t these affected humans act more robotic as they already are, as a result of this interaction?
The scientists explain that researches show that individuals with ASD find the interface with robots less threatening. With anxiety significantly reduced, autistics have better ability to identify their emotions and respond appropriately to social situations. Specialists believe that Robots4Autism will be very useful as an adjunct to more conventional therapies used for autism intervention.
The fantastic idea of humans and automatons co-existing may not be restricted to motion pictures anymore.