The problems suffered by those affected by autism, a disorder that damages people’s ability to socialize, communicate or emotional reciprocity, are a constant threat of loneliness and isolation.

One of the emerging applications within the scope of social robotics is to provide therapy to children with autism. The use of robots with linguistic abilities for the accompaniment and treatment of children with autistic disorders is currently being investigated as a tool to help and support specialists in occupational therapy.

For years, John-John Cabibihan, a biomedical robotics doctor, has been researching the use of robots in various areas of healing. The study uncovers the investigations of his team from the National University of Singapore about the application of these mechanical devices in the treatment of autism. Likewise, it points out the design characteristics that have to be treasured to achieve greater effectiveness in the treatment of this problem.

Technology can handle therapeutic tasks that go beyond detection and diagnosis. Social robots help the development of cognitive, motor, sensory and social skills. “They can teach children to start a salute, wait their turn to throw the ball, show the route to an object of interest of the boys and make movements that will later be copied by the children,” says Dr. Cabibihan in his study.

According to their research, social robots are perfect for this task because “it is easier to interact with them than with a human, their actions are perfectly repeatable, and can be modified in different ways to meet the needs of different children.”

Automata to help autistic children

A remarkable study is the one promoted by the researchers of the Enrico Piaggo Research Center of the University of Pisa, who have created a prototype robot, female apperception, to train these children in the recognition of facial expressions.

In a closed-door test, this android, when presenting it to about twenty children with autism, did not provoke any rejection between any of them. “The bottom line is that these children have a great intelligence, but they have problems perceiving the emotions.We do not fix their illness.But we allow them to learn to recognize these emotions using a being that does not cause them, because it is artificial, rejection that they would feel towards a stranger, “explained one of the researchers of the project, Daniele Mazzei.

An autistic child does not understand the smile, whether or not this expression has to do with happiness. This robot shows the child the visual similarity of the position of the factions, such as the curve of the lips or wrinkles around the eyes, and teach the child what the smile is from a cognitive point of view.

In Croatia, a group of researchers from the University of Zagreb has designed René, a robot that helps children with autism and is equipped with a microphone, speakers and a camera. This robot registers the voice of the child, evaluates how the child establishes visual contact with his environment and analyzes his behavior.

“The main objective of the project is to develop a protocol to establish a diagnosis, we want both the robot and the human team to work in parallel to determine this diagnosis,” said Maja Cepanec, responsible for the project. “We want to work with children with autism and children who do not suffer from the disorder, so be sure that we register the appropriate behaviors and that we perform the correct analyzes,” concluded Cepanec.

Spanish Project: Robot Social IO

In Spain, a Sevillian engineer, Bernardo Ronquillo, has developed Robot Social IO, an artificial intelligence device to favor the diagnosis and treatment of autism, Asperger’s syndrome, language disorders and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ).

The device is devised as another tool for psychotherapists through which children with autism and other disorders can continue the exercises in their own home.

The robot will be able to interact with the child and even play with him to favor his enrichment in social skills. In addition, it has a touch panel, is able to see and has a natural voice to establish a closer and more intimate treatment with the child.