Eleanor Tucker at The Guardian is providing insight on how robots with human features can be used for early diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders and for social skills development. In her article, “How robots are helping children with autism“, she discussed “Zeno”; a robot who is programmed to mimic interpersonal communication. Zeno is a collaborative project between Dr. Dan Popa at the University of Texas-Arlington, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Hanson Robokind, Dallas Autism Treatment Center, Texas Instruments, and National Instruments. According to a 2012 media release from University of Texas-Arlington,  the goal of this project is to “create a human robot interaction system that will be used for early diagnosis and treatment for children suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders.”

Tucker notes that Zeno’s ability to replicate human nonverbal communication can be an effective resource in early diagnosis.

“Diagnosis of child autism has traditionally taken place through social interaction and speech exercises. This means that, until a child can speak, diagnosis is either a lengthy process, or can’t happen. But Zeno can interact with children through nonverbal communication such as body movements and facial expressions, speeding up diagnosis and perhaps even enabling it to be carried out before a child can talk.”

Popa mentions that Zeno’s physical construct appeals to children on the Autism Spectrum. His appearance is kind and approachable, which removes the element of fear and uncertainty that can come with human interaction. As a result, he can be used to teach children social skills and be the medium for the children to practice and refine them.

The use of robotechnology to help children on the Autism Spectrum is a familiar concept in Connecticut. In October 2014, FOX CT televised a feature on CREC River Street School, who is using two robots named Ben and Jerry to help their students on the Autism Spectrum.

Do you think robots can be an effective tool for kids on the Autism Spectrum? Post a comment today!