A recent study by researchers at Notre Dame University suggests that a clinical use of robotics may be beneficial in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Findings indicate that interactive robots can be programmed to successfully teach new behaviors to children on the autism spectrum by providing personalized feedback to increase the performance of skills through practice.
“Our clinical work [is] focused mainly on improving social skills (greetings, joint attention, [and] appropriate responding),” Dr. Chuck Crowell, a professor at the University of Notre Dame who pioneers research in the field of assistive robotics, tells Parentology. He explains that, for many children with autism, engaging in reciprocal conversations with others can be challenging. However, interactive robots can be programmed to teach social interaction skills, provide eye contact and give positive feedback to those on the autism spectrum.
Robotics can also assist with the building of imitative behaviors, like copying a robot when it raises its arms or claps its hands. Utilizing this technology in the treatment of ASD may capitalize on the inner motivation of some children with autism if they prefer robotics over playing with peers.
Therapies using robots appear to serve as a “unique bridge between the world of objects and the world of humans,” Crowell adds. Additional research in this area will help determine whether or not robotic therapy could also be beneficial in the treatment of similar conditions, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When used properly, the technology specifically shows promise for increasing concentration levels and teaching impulse control skills, as reported by a study from IDC Herzliya, which is a private research college in Israel.
“The broad hypothesis [is] that, if children with ASD are more focused on the world of objects than the world of people, then [robotic technology would be] an especially useful adjunct therapy,” Crowell says.
Educators with the Consumer Technology Association found that most people associate robots with innovation and efficiency, pointing out that they have the ability to grow smarter and more capable of complex tasks as additional uses for their technology are discovered.
For many with autism, robots may serve as an essential link between actual human connection and interacting only with objects. Helping those on the autism spectrum by using robotic therapies is just one of many ways technology can be applied to enhance the lives of those around us.