Exploring the Use of Robots in Autism Education

Exploring the Use of Robots in Autism Education

Parents of children with autism know that the journey is not easy. Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulties acquiring and retaining knowledge. They also struggle to organize their thoughts.

It is particularly hard for ASD children to understanding verbal and non-verbal cues. This makes education and learning social skills a challenge.

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

In recent years, there have been exciting developments around the use of robots and autism. Robots can reach autistic kids using special techniques that improve learning and socialization.

This game-changing approach has opened up a whole new world for children with autism. Robots can engage with ASD children in many ways. And very importantly, research backs the results that families are seeing from their child’s interaction with a robot. 

The Rise in Robot-Assisted Instruction

Teachers have long been integrating technology into the classroom. For example, apps can provide text-to-speech for kids with learning disabilities. Other programs provide specialized instruction for spelling or math, with dynamic feedback.

For ASD children, robots can provide a particular type of instruction. What best serves an ASD child’s needs is removing the confusion. Humans, even those trained to help, still may unconsciously encourage ASD children to be “more like us.”

Robots don’t expect ASD children to be anything other than who they are. They remove the judgment and facial cues that are often difficult for ASD children to interpret. And thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, robots can adapt to the child’s learning style.

Parents of children who receive instruction via robots have seen the results. Their children are able to learn in a way that they couldn’t before.

Research Backing the Benefits of Robots

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

Research has already shown huge benefits for children with intellectual disabilities by using “enjoyable repetition.” Programs increase the challenges at a level appropriate for the child. Technology can provide interaction 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. 

For ASD children, in particular, robots offer qualities that humans can’t. They have perfect consistency and patience and don’t get tired or frustrated. Research shows that ASD children prefer robots to humans for social interaction and learning.

How Robots Can Help Kids with Autism

The opportunities provided by robots can open many doors for children with autism. Interventions can be personalized for the needs of the child.

Overall, children see robots as a fun experience. They enjoy their learning while simultaneously improving many skills. Children come to see their robots as companions. 

Here are some ways that robots can interact with ASD children. 

Engagement

ASD children are drawn to robots, which improves their engagement during therapy sessions. Robots can also improve the social behaviors of children with autism.

Consistent Instruction

Robots are consistent and predictable. People, on the other hand, behave in all sorts of different ways, which can be confusing to an autistic child. Educators see predictability as an overwhelming positive for autistic children. 

Robots repeat lessons until mastery is achieved. ASD children can receive a consistent response from a robot for lessons completed. 

Education and Life Skills

For autistic children, robotics can be used in a variety of life skills. They can assist in exercises for speech and communication. They can also teach social skills and interaction by modeling behaviors. 

Therapies can also extend to emotional regulation and improving mood. Life skills may include reminding children to complete tasks. This helps the child learn independence.

Physical Activities

Larger robots have been used in classroom settings. They can guide children through physical and group activities. Physical engagement can help ASD children connect with the rest of the world. 

Storytelling

Autistic children often have difficulty understanding how other people think. Storytelling can help bridge this gap in what is called “theory of the mind.” Through characters, stories can model theory of the mind for children.

Robots can be used to reduce the burden on parents in storytelling. They can also keep children engaged during a story. 

The Role of Robots During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 forced the closure of many schools across the country. Parents of ASD children found themselves without access to critical resources.

Children with disabilities, in general, were among some of the most affected. Therapies that they rely on for everyday life were suddenly not available. Moreover, they could not be easily replicated in a remote environment. 

For parents, this was particularly hard. The children were without the routine 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. They could continue to receive necessary instruction and intervention.

Robots and Autism: Opening Doors for Your Child

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