Dancing robots combat autism

Two 24-inch-tall, interactive robots were the source of entertainment for 3 autistic children at the River Street School in Windsor, Conn. recently, and it looks like this kind of technology could be a unique source of treatment to help improve students social, sensory and cognitive skills. The robots are programmed with more than 50 applications, including […]

Two 24-inch-tall, interactive robots were the source of entertainment for 3 autistic children at the River Street School in Windsor, Conn. recently, and it looks like this kind of technology could be a unique source of treatment to help improve students social, sensory and cognitive skills.

The robots are programmed with more than 50 applications, including story-telling, number and spelling exercises, singing and movement. At this particular school, 30 – 40 kids are getting access to the robots thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Mike Maloney and Pete Landry Memorial Golf Tournament, which is also focused on helping students with motor control skills, eye contact and turn-taking.

“These kids have different socializing skills and may not interact with adults, but they take an interest in mechanical objects,” said Thomas Parvenski, the school’s director.

Back in March reports of the positive affects robots, or non-human, interaction can have for autistic children are substantial. At the Duck’s Nest preschool in Oakland, Calif., a cute guy named Romibo has joined the educational party.

This low-cost, fuzzy and friendly robot is making appearances at schools across the country. Romibo’s creator, Aubrey Shick, says special-needs children can benefit most from social robots. Behavioral experts say that human facial features can overwhelm those with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that autistic children are more comfortable looking at a robot than a human therapist.

“The robot is safe. The robot’s facial features don’t change,” Laura McGuire, the mother of Liam, an autistic child, told PBS NewsHour. “There’s not so much to figure out with talking to a robot, where there was a lot to figure out in talking to a human being.”

In Windsor, one of the students, Natalie, explained why she liked the robots: “Because they tell stories,” she said. “They were fun.”

Efforts toward progress with autistic children are essential, and a robot that can sing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” just makes the whole process more fun for everyone.

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