Robots Offer Alternative Therapy Treatment for Children With Autism

A robot with human features can take the anxiety out of personal interactions for children with the developmental disorder.
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A robot with human features can take the anxiety out of personal interactions for children with the developmental disorder.

Robots with human facial features might appear to be the next (creepy) step toward artificial intelligence taking over the world, but they’re proving useful in treating and diagnosing children with autism.

Part of what RoboKind calls “advanced social robotics,” Robots4Autism connect to children by way of two humanoid robots, instead of an actual human being. Direct interaction can be stressful for those on the spectrum, as they typically shy away from speaking with other kids or adults.

“I make learning fun and exciting while being your friend,” RoboKind’s Milo says.

Milo is used specifically for social therapy. A common struggle for children with autism is the inability to interpret emotions and respond in kind.

Connected to a tablet, children identify Milo’s emotions based on facial expression. Not only do Milo’s lips move, but also his eyes widen and squint, his head turns, and his eyebrows shift up and down — all signature movements to create an expressive face. Milo can sense when the child become frustrated or tense while helping children learn how to react in social situations.

These robots could prove useful in the classroom as well, taking some of the stress off teachers, who often don’t have time to repeat lessons to those with special needs. But the robots have all the time in the world — and can repeat the same lesson without becoming frustrated.

But the robots can do more than just provide therapy — they can provide early diagnoses. Families usually have to wait until a child can speak before analysis, but RoboKind’s other model, Zeno, uses non-verbal communication to help diagnose children who are not yet able to speak, The Guardian reports.

These robots aren’t limited to assisting children with developmental disorders. They’re also useful for adults with dementia and learning new languages.

Top photo courtesy of RoboKind Robots