According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 American children has an autism spectrum disorder. Autism varies case by case, but a couple common traits is that children are uncomfortable with eye contact and they struggle with reading people’s emotions. Both of these make it difficult for to them to interact with others.
However, recent research has found that autistic children are more comfortable interacting with robots than humans, in part because robots are more predictable and can be controlled. Experts also say teaching social skills to children with autism requires frequent repetition. Last time I checked, robots are great at repetition.
“Children with autism have trouble understanding and engaging other people’s emotions, and with socially assistive robots, the child may be more readily engaged without being overwhelmed,” said Laurie Dickstein-Fischer, an assistant professor at Massachusetts’ Salem State University’s School of Education.
And since toys are often more approachable than people for children with autism, we’re starting to see an influx of social robots that can be great tools to help autism therapy. Just today, for example, Leka the social robot launched on Indiegogo. Leka has been co-developed with parents, therapists and caregivers to make therapy more accessible to children with autism, Down’s syndrome, or multiple disabilities. Leka’s goal is to help these children become more independent and improve their motor and social skills.
So, this got us thinking about what other robots are helping autistic children in ways humans can’t. Sure, there are older robots out there not on our list, such as KASPAR and Bandit, but we rounded up robots looking to have a much bigger impact on autism therapy going forward.