Thursday, 2 April 2015

Autism - Social Robots - Robolution.Me

Few weeks back, I met a family with a 12 year old son who has been diagnosed with autism. In the afternoon we spent together, I noticed that he was most content when playing on his iPad. Similar thing happened with one of my friend's brother, who has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.

Many researchers around the world debated/researched/expressed mixed opinions on the use of natural attraction to technology to help autistic children.

My observation is that devices like IPads can appear to help draw autistic kids out of their shell, but sometimes that attraction is not a good thing. Kids with autism ignore social interactions, so they often feel very comfortable with computers, because using them is a singular activity. They can sit with an iPad for a whole day and never look up even once.

I think the real trick is to leverage the attraction to technology into an activity to make the child more social.

Many autistic children have difficulty interpreting communication keys we take for granted. Facial expression, voice intonation, nuances in spoken pitch and speed can all become bewildering and act as a barrier to social interaction.

What if we remove some of these factors to allow the child to experience the basic elements of social interaction? Remove the facial expression confusion and use repeatable, consistent vocal patterns. Human Therapist are not always consistent and are not always available, and this confuses the children.

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I believe that a social robot can help, a robot with a consistent action and speech. This can allow the child to start to interact, and the other elements can be gradually reintroduced as they grow in confidence.

By developing robotic behaviors that mimic human movements and interactions, and offer rewards for social interaction, a positive reinforcement can be provided to the autistic child. This can lead to improved social interaction by breaking down the 'fear' element the child experiences and encourages them to be more extrovert than introvert.

If it sounds a little too good to be true let's just say we are at the start of this journey. There is a lot to learn and a lot of paths to travel along.

On this World Autism Awareness Day, I and my Team at Robolution.Me are very much excited to offer our help in creating that environment and to travel that path.

We want to start a small pilot project with 10 kids in Mumbai. We would be very grateful to you or any of your friends who can connect us with Parents,Therapists of these Special Children or to any Special Schools in your locality,

Together we can bring this change.
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