How—and Why—Robots Can Be Helpful for Children on the Spectrum

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Children on the spectrum can have trouble recognizing social cues, emotions, and facial expressions, and they can get easily overwhelmed by social situations. This can make learning difficult for them.

For the past few years, scientists have been developing an educational tool to help with that: a robot.

It may sound farfetched, but it’s actually been a reality for years.

There are a few different types of robots on the market, and their job in the autism community is to assist with the learning process and enhance life skills.

They allow people on the spectrum to interact with something that is smart and friendly, but without any emotions; a piece of technology that doesn’t isolate children in a digital world or make children more antisocial, but rather allows them to better understand the world around them.

See for yourself in the video below!

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Aldebaran Robotics (a company that designs, develops and sells humanoid robots) created the first version of the NAO robot in 2006.

Over the years, the original model was revamped and improved. Aldebaran’s mission was to integrate robots into our daily lives and use them as a positive influence. What started as a robot that could help with tasks like reception, assistance, or home care has developed into a robot that can complete even more complex tasks.

By 2013, Aldebaran had built a program called ASK NAO (Autism Solution For Kids) specifically to help those on the spectrum; by 2014, they released the fifth evolution of the NAO robot, aptly called NAO Evolution. This model is the strongest robot yet, with a more powerful and agile operating system.

The ASK NAO package is an educational tool intended to assist teachers or caregivers in a classroom setting. The package is pricy, and comprised of three parts: the NAO Evolution robot, autism applications, and a user interface.

  • The robot has two cameras that allow it to learn and recognize images and faces. It can engage with a child in verbal, tactile, and visual ways, and it has a sleek body devoid of distractions to reduce over-stimulation and increase focus. The robot has receptors that allow him to hear and understand a child, and its prompts and responses can provide a calming predictability for a child during repetitive tasks.
  • The applications utilize accepted teaching methods and approaches for autism, like ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), TEACCH (Training and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children), DENVER, and SCERTS. The applications come from a vast and varied library, and are customizable.
  • The easy-to-use interface can be used to track a child’s progress, compile notes, and communicate with other teachers or caregivers who are also using the robots.

Would you consider using a robot like this to help your child?

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C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband and dog.