Robot-supported education for children with autism

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are characterized by behaviors that can pose challenges to developing communication and social skills. The project aims to use social robots, which are embodied and can bridge the digital and real world in ways that other learning technology cannot, to teach language skills combined with social and communication skills to children with ASD.

The project will create and evaluate a robot-based toolbox: RObot Supported education for children with ASD (ROSA) for teachers that can tailor content and learning for the unique needs of each child with ASD. The personalized lesson plan and the robot’s expressive movements will keep the child motivated to learn as lessons progress. 

The project will use a sociocultural approach with experts in social robotics, education, and ASD and conduct rigorous technological and interdisciplinary research in expressive robot movement, robot-assisted language learning, customizing and personalizing technology for education, ethics and education content for children with ASD. The final ROSA prototype will be in a year-long trial with over 50 children with ASD using the social robot in sessions at school several times a week. The children’s language, social, and communication abilities will be compared to at least 50 children with ASD from previous years not in the trial. Other items measured include children’s motivation and engagement when working during the sessions. Quantitative and qualitative methods will be used, and ethical challenges related to use of social robots for children with ASD will be addressed as a research issue. 

Can robots help with socializing?

Beyond helping children with ASD develop skills, the project will create knowledge about how the effect of embodiment, social robots, language learning, robot training, and how social robots can improve language, communication and social skills of children with ASD. The software and algorithms for expressive robot movements can be used by social robot designers and creators. 

NR is the coordinator for the project and is also responsible for creating parts of the ROSA toolbox; finding requirements from the children, teachers, and parents; and running the trial.