For some children with autism, interacting with other people can be an uncomfortable, mystifying experience. Feeling overwhelmed with face-to-face interaction, such children may find it difficult to focus their attention and learn social skills from their teachers and therapists—the very people charged with helping them learn to socially adapt.
What these children need, say some researchers, is a robot: a cute, tech-based intermediary, with a body, that can teach them how to more comfortably interact with their fellow humans.
On the face of it, learning human interaction from a robot might sound counter-intuitive. Or just backward. But a handful of groups are studying the technology in an effort to find out just how effective these robots are at helping children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
One of those groups is LuxAI, a young company spun out of the University of Luxembourg. The company says its QTrobot can actually increase these children’s willingness to interact with human therapists, and decrease discomfort during therapy sessions. University of Luxembourg researchers working with QTrobot plan to present their results on 28 August at RO-MAN 2018, IEEE’s international symposium on robot and human interactive communication, held in Nanjing, China.
“When you are interacting with a person, there are a lot of social cues such as facial expressions, tonality of the voice, and movement of the body which are overwhelming and distracting for children with autism,” says Aida Nazarikhorram, co-founder of LuxAI. “But robots have this ability to make everything simplified,” she says. “For example, every time the robot says something or performs a task, it’s exactly the same as the previous time, and that gives comfort to children with autism.”