Socially-assistive robots in therapy and education

We designed and trialled novel robot-assisted approaches to support therapy and education for children and students with autism and intellectual disability.

The challenge

For some young people living with autism spectrum disorder and/or an intellectual disability, developing academic skills as well as communication and social interaction skills can be a significant challenge.

Often, these individuals need additional support to improve their competence in these areas.

Much of this support is provided through digital technology, where the learning environment is judgement-free, allowing students to feel more engaged and at ease.

While considered safe and effective, learning through technology can lose its merit when the student becomes dependent on the virtual world, or is unwilling or even unable to translate skills learned in that world into the real world.

Our response

Our researchers have developed novel interventions and software to support robot-assisted therapy and education for young people with intellectual disability and autism using socially assistive robots (SARs).

SARs provide a compromise between the virtual and real world. They have a physical, 3D presence and can exhibit complex behaviour patterns while appearing less intimidating than humans. SARs provide assistance by developing a social bond with individuals in order to support measurable progression in the development of an ability.

We have been trialling NAO, KASPAR, PARO and PEPPER in a variety of settings. NAO, PARO and PEPPER robots have been used in the classroom to support secondary students across a range of disciplines, from science and IT to yoga and social skills.

The humanoid robot KASPAR was trialled in a clinical setting, where a therapist facilitated the robot’s interaction one-on-one with a child, specifically focussing on developing the child’s social and communication skills.