Education, Emotions, and Development: Robots and Autism

Parents of children with autism know that the educational journey for their child is unique and different from that of a neurotypical child. It can be incredibly rewarding to watch them learn and grow!

Many schools are well-equipped to provide therapies and educational services to help children with autism. Interventions that target a child’s unique needs are designed to help them thrive. 

In recent years, there have been exciting developments around the use of robots as aides to academic and social instruction. Robots can teach kids with ASD using special techniques that improve learning and socialization. Due to their friendly nature and novelty, children with ASD are often highly engaged when interacting with robots.

This innovative approach to teaching has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for children with autism. 

The Rise in Robot-Assisted Instruction

Teachers have long been integrating technology into the classroom for a variety of purposes (think: engagement strategies, supplemental practice opportunities, and differentiated instruction). Even assistive technology has found its place in the classroom. For example, text-to-speech and speech-to-text applications help students with learning disabilities participate in learning activities. Other programs offer specialized instruction for spelling or math, with dynamic feedback.

For children with ASD, robots can provide a unique benefit to instruction. Robots present as non-threatening and are easy to interact with. Robots have no expectations of the individual and remove judgment and social cue barriers that are often difficult for children with ASD to interpret. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, robots can adapt to the child’s learning style. 

Robot-assisted instruction, or RAI, is becoming increasingly popular as a highly efficient and beneficial teaching tool that can be utilized in a variety of settings for one main goal: to support a child’s learning. Families can purchase a robot system for their home to help their child with individual goals. Schools can use them as interventions for particular student learning goals. Therapists can even use them in therapeutic settings to support a child socially and emotionally. The benefits of RAI are endless and many have seen the results!

Benefits of Robot-Assisted Instruction

The success of robot-assisted instruction goes beyond anecdotal evidence. Research confirms that robotics is an effective way to teach children with ASD. The innovative interventions offered by robots demonstrated “positive results in improving outcomes for children with ASD.”

Research has already shown benefits for children with intellectual disabilities by using “enjoyable repetition.” Programs increase the challenges at a level appropriate for the child. Technology can provide systematic, tailored instruction and game-based learning to teach essential life skills. 

Another study, showed that children had improvement in attention skills with adults, even when not in the presence of a robot. Caregivers reported similar findings. In this study, the robot modeled eye contact, and the child mirrored the behavior. Researchers and parents alike are reporting generalization of skills learned through robot-assisted instruction.

For children with ASD, robots offer qualities that humans cannot. They are consistent, predictable, and patient and do not get tired or frustrated. Research shows that children with ASD prefer robots to humans for social interaction and learning as many of the barriers to interaction are eliminated by using robots.

How Robots Can Help Kids with Autism

Interventions can be personalized for the needs of the child. Here are some ways that robots can interact with children on the autism spectrum. 

Engagement

Overall, children see robots as a fun experience. They enjoy learning and improving upon many skills. Children with ASD are drawn to robots, which encourages engagement during therapy sessions. Children come to see their robots as companions and can develop a positive relationship with their robot.  

Consistent Instruction

Robots are consistent and predictable, unlike humans who are unpredictable and generally inconsistent by nature. Educators know how overwhelmingly important predictability is for their students, especially students with ASD. Predictability and routine allow for structure and safety in a learning environment.  Robot sessions are consistent in that they are programmed to operate in similar formats. They can even repeat lessons until mastery is achieved. Children with ASD always receive positive praise from a robot when they answer a question or complete a lesson.  

Life Skills

Robotics can be used to teach, foster, and support life skills development. They can assist in exercises for speech and communication. They can also teach social skills and interaction by modeling behaviors and roleplaying. 

Therapies can also extend to emotional regulation and improving mood. Life skills may include daily routines such as “brushing your teeth.” This helps the child build independence with such tasks. Robots can also improve the social behaviors of children with autism through fun, repetitive exercises focusing on topics such as joint attention; the ability to share attention with another on something or someone.

Physical Activities

Robots used in classroom settings can guide children through physical group activities. They can also teach and encourage participation of sensory break activities, such as animal walks or breathing techniques. Physical engagement can help children with ASD connect with their bodies and minds.

Storytelling

Children with ASD often have difficulty understanding how other people think. Storytelling can help children understand others’ perspectives and points of view. Social stories can teach children how to behave in certain social situations. They can even be a fun alternative voice for storytime at home or at school!

The Role of Robots During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 Pandemic forced the closure of many schools across the country. Parents of children with autism and other special needs found themselves without access to critical resources. Children with disabilities, in general, were among some of the most affected. Families could no longer access services that they relied on for structure and support. Moreover, these could not be easily adapted to a virtual environment. 

For parents, this was particularly hard. Children were without routines provided by their schools. Parents were not necessarily equipped to provide the right support at home.  Robots have “stepped in” and provided critical support for these families. Where social distancing measures forced school resources to take a step back, children were able to use robots at home to move forward. They could continue to receive instruction and intervention from a robotics system designed to support children with autism and other special needs.

Robots and ASD: Opening Doors for Your Child

By integrating robots throughout your child’s life, you can reach them in a whole new way. The connections between robots and ASD outcomes are overwhelmingly positive. A robot companion ensures that your child’s needs are met. 

MOVIA Robotics has many robots to help unlock your child’s potential. For more information, contact us today. 

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