Robots as therapists for autistic kids - Tinkerbots

Robots as therapists for autistic kids

Just connect bricks, motion modules and the Powerbrain and the fun is about to start. Kids love robots like Tinkerbots as a modern playmate. But for some kids, a robot can even be more than just a toy. They can help autistic kids to improve their motor skills and their skills for social communication.

Around one percent of the population is affected by the neurodevelopmental disorder autism, often also referred to as Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASD). People with autism can be separated into two categories: One part suffers from early infantile autism which gets diagnosed in the first year of people’s life and causes an inaccurate language development in 50 percent of all cases. The other part sufferes from Asperger syndrome which usually gets diagnosed at the age of four. Affected individuals often have a pedantic style of speech and a high intelligence, but instead suffer from a motor skills disorder. As some independent studies from the last years have shown, robots can play an important part in the therapy for autistic kids.

Learning with humanoid robots

Facilities worldwide are already working on therapy projects where autistic kids spend time with humanoid robots to improve the interaction with other human beings. This approach seems to be quite successful. According to recent results of therapists and scientists, autistic kids are drawn to robots because they are less complicated than humans. It’s easier to interact with the machines as they are more predictable. Many autistic kids also have a limited gross motor skills and sense of balance which makes it difficult for them to imitate complex motions. That’s why robots which perform simple motions like a bow or a handshake are suited perfectly for a therapy. Their motions and expressions can be read and understood more easily by autistic kids than for instance the complex human facial expressions.

Cooperative playing with active bricks

But not only humanoid robots can help autistic kids, also toys like Tinkerbots are great for that purpose. A study from the University of Sussex, England shows how playing with active or tangible bricks can improve the interaction between autistic kids and those without the disorder. For the study, students from the age of 9 till 13 with and without ASD were seated together at a table to build certain models with active and passive bricks (in this case LEGO®). The result was that all kids had a stronger interest in the building process of the other kid when they were playing with active bricks. But even more importantly, the cooperation in forms of working with another person by turn-taking and discussing play outcomes was more distinct with the active bricks.

So, Tinkerbots should be used at elementary schools with autistic kids. The cooperative playing and discovering could be a great chance for improvement of the social interaction.

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