Social Robots & Visual Learning for Autism

Improving Outcomes by Effective Early Intervention

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Early Intervention Improves Outcome

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) benefit from early and ongoing interventions that are tailored to specific needs. Early intensive behavioral ntervention is recognized an as efficacious approach for improving outcomes for young children with ASD. Both short and long term outcomes including IQ, adaptive behavior, autism symptoms, challenging behavior have been shown to improve by comprehensive, intensive intervention. Most importantly, these interventions improve functioning at home and in the community.

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Economic Impact of Autism

Lifetime cost of supporting an individual with an ASD in the United States

The lifetime cost of supporting an individual with an ASD without intellectual disability is $1.4 million in the United States, and $2.4 million when intellectual disability is also present.

The economic burden associated with ASD is largely due to the cost of special education in childhood. Intensive behavioral interventions typically involve long hours from qualified teachers and therapists who are either not available in many communities or beyond the financial resources of families and their education and healthcare systems. The substantial economic impact of ASD highlights the importance of continuing to develop and implement more effective interventions.

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Technology Enhances ASD Therapy

Tools such as visual learning lessons and social robots have resulted from advances in technology that now allow the creation of controlled environments, which aim to reduce the anxiety that social interactions may cause children with ASD. Socially interactive robots and robotassisted therapy have been shown to enhance therapy for children with ASD by improving engagement and eliciting novel social behaviors. Learning social skills requires a great deal of repetition, which may fatigue teachers and potentially create stress, confusion, and unnecessarily complex situations. However, electronic visual learning lessons and social robots allow for endless, consistent repetitions of lessons. While robots provide novel sensory stimuli that can trigger novel social behaviors that inanimate objects and toys cannot, they can be controlled so that only relevant information is presented to the student. Variations can be made in a conscious and safe manner.

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Robots As Social Mediator and Co-Therapist

A robot can act as a social mediator or facilitator between a child and a teacher or therapist. This would allow the child with ASD to extend learned behaviors to his/her social circle, including other children, family members, teachers, and therapists. For example, a child can learn context-specific behaviors from a robot that enacts certain behaviors in specific social situations. 


Therapists can also model socially appropriate questions and responses through a “co-therapist” robot in order to help children with ASD learn social communication skills.Children can use the skills they learned, both directly with their human therapist and at home. Robots provide personalized interactions for a child, taking into account the child’s preferences, needs, and abilities. 


The complexity of interaction can also be increased as the child progresses. Interaction with technology eliminates the complexities and unpredictable nature of verbal and nonverbal communication that children with ASD encounter with humans. 


Social robots have the added advantage, over therapy with virtual characters and software, of providing multimodal interactions, including gestures, speech, and touch.

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Technology Facilitates Play

Play activities with social robots and visual learning tools encourage children with ASD to interact freely and without fear in a safe environment. Play is an important part of a child’s cognitive and social development, but children with ASD often choose to play by themselves or in situations involving minimal social interaction. Studies have shown that individuals with ASD show a preference for robot-like characteristics over nonrobotic toys and humans.


Play activities and scenarios produced by social robots and software can be personalized to an individual child’s needs and preferences, and lessons can be repeated as many times as needed. Robots and visual learning tools for autism therapy aim to elicit certain target behaviors, including imitation, eye contact, turn taking, and self-initiation, in order to promote sensory, cognitive, social, emotional and motor development.

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Social Robotics

Social robots are designed as teaching aids to help children with ASD improve their social interaction and communication skills. User-friendly interfaces allow users to control robots such as Nao, Milo and Pepper even without prior knowledge of software or robotics. In addition, data that is captured and analyzed by the robots can easily be shared among teachers and parents to document and direct student progress.


Milo is a humanoid robot by Robots4Autism, designed to teach elementary and middle school age children the understanding and meaning of emotions and expressions, and to demonstrate appropriate social behavior and responses.

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Nao is another humanoid robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics, whose tasks are fully programmable educational applications inspired from various behavioral approaches and models.


Pepper is a 4ft humanoid robot created by Aldebaran Robotics & SoftBank, it’s considered an family robot, however it is a remarkable and supper affordable solution for kids diagnosed with ASD.

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Visual Learning Tools


Web-based visual learning tools provide access to materials that are designed to engage students with ASD and provide individualized instruction in either group or individual settings. Spectrum Keys provides on demand videos to teach specific skills, play sequences, social interactions, and perspective taking. Solutions,  such as VizZle , has online library of thousands of lessons with tools to edit and customize, as well as create new, lessons. Lessons can be tailored for each student, taking into account individual learning styles and goals and objectives. VizZle allows students to work on lessons remotely (e.g., from home) so that they can strengthen the connection between school and home, as well as reinforce skills. Data is captured for every lesson, allowing for analysis and data mining at various time points. Behavior Imaging, develops solutions to facilitate the observational, analytical and collaborative needs of behavioral healthcare and special education professionals. Behavior Imaging enables collaboration and consultation between patients and professionals through video capture and a secure health record application that allows users to store, share, and annotate video files. 



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Addressing the Need for Individualized Interventions

Research has shown the potential value of different kinds of technologies for children with ASD, but it should be noted that children have different reactions to working with virtual lessons or robots. This, however, simply underscores the need for individualized and tailored interventions for children with ASD. The heterogeneity of ASD presentation calls for a high degree of adaptation and individualization of interventions, which can be addressed by some of the currently available technologies for children with autism.

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