Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Robotics Science

Robots Teach Autistic Kids Social Skills 171

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the bender-not-a-great-model dept.
posys writes "Wired Magazine has an article showing how the eternal patience of robots lends itself well to teaching new social skills to autistic children. 'The researchers hope that the end result is a human-like robot that can act as a "social mediator" for autistic children, a steppingstone to improved social interaction with other children and adults. "KASPAR provides autistic children with reliability and predictability. Since there are no surprises, they feel safe and secure," Robins said, adding that the purpose is not to replace human interaction and contact but to enhance it. Robins has already tested some imitation and turn-taking games with the children and his preliminary findings are positive.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Robots Teach Autistic Kids Social Skills

Comments Filter:
  • Ummm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bombula (670389) on Monday July 09, 2007 @03:24PM (#19804457)
    Am I the only one who finds the idea of robots teaching autistic children to be social slightly ironic?
    • It just means we'll have a bunch of slightly-more-social-than-usual autistic kids who speak with a robotic voice.
    • by Tackhead (54550)
      > Am I the only one who finds the idea of robots teaching autistic children to be social slightly ironic?

      Definitely. Definitely slightly ironic.

    • Re:Ummm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by the dark hero (971268) <adriatic_hero@ho ... minus physicist> on Monday July 09, 2007 @03:45PM (#19804813) Homepage
      Ironic: Yes. Useful: Extreme Potential

      Have you ever had to care for an autistic child? I was asked to watch over one for maybe half an hour to forty-five minutes. I wasn't prepared for what was to happen next, but i learned a lot. In fact, the kid taught me more than i could even try to teach him. The boy was about 9 years old, but had the mental capacity of a 5 year old. Sadly, that's probably never going to change. One thing to remember is that some autistic children don't speak. They do things largely based on habit. Kinda sounds less ironic if you have something to relate to in order to assist social interaction with other humans.

      • I've known several autistic children, and you might be surprised at what some of them know. Now, granted, there are often other developmental disorders that accompany autism, but what you interpret as reduced mental capacity might be reduced motivation. I knew one kid that had almost no verbal skills and was thought to be very unaware of his surroundings, but when the right motivators were found it was revealed that he knew the names of everyone around him and much more. (Of course, he's still most likely developmentally delayed.)

        That said, I agree that the robot could be extremely helpful. For many children with autism it might turn out to be the right motivator.

        • They are most definitely aware of what's going on. IIRC, autism occurs when the brain develops prematurely kinda leaving no room to grow. Some social/verbal functions may be capped, but the autistic person is still able to learn and grasp new ideas. From what i understood they interpret information differently or can't interpret it at all. I have much to learn obviously, but hopefully the robots can help us communicate to an autistic person.
          • Autism spectrum (Score:5, Interesting)

            by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhocking@@@yahoo...com> on Monday July 09, 2007 @04:45PM (#19805589) Homepage Journal

            I believe current theory is that most people with autism have interconnection problems, actually. I.e., the various regions of the brain are not communicating well with each other. However, the label "autism" is often about as specific as the label "cancer". That is, I'm quite certain there are several different development disorders that have been lumped under the same label. If you go to a school for children with autism (my wife works in one), you'll notice that these children are more different from each other than the "typical" child with autism is different from a "typical" child without autism. The only things they all have in common are the conditions that were necessary for them to be labelled as having autism in the first place. Some of them have severe mental deficiencies. Others are capable of earning a Ph.D. [templegrandin.com] Most of them, however, at least appear to have lower mental functioning than the typically developing child. (By "appear", I mean by an impartial observer using the tools they have available to them. Unfortunately, the impartial observer cannot always understand the way to communicate to a particular child with autism or the way to interpret such a child's actions. OTOH, a "partial" observer is subject to the typical problems associated with being partial - including a desire to believe that a child has more potential than he or she might actually have.)

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Nemetroid (883968)
              Yes. I know two persons with autism. One of them is in my IB class, studying Physics and Mathematics at Higher Level. The other one, while not a straight A student, is good at communicating socially. So, to label autistic children as mentally deficient is not right since it covers a huge spectra.
              • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                by Evil Cretin (1090953)
                I used to work with an autistic person, at a large technology company. Whilst socially awkward (prancing around wildly in corridors etc), he was one of the most intelligent people I've met, and although no-one ever saw him doing any work, he always finished his workload far ahead of schedule. Autism != mental deficiency. It's better described as a social deficiency.
        • by Analogy Man (601298) on Monday July 09, 2007 @04:36PM (#19805489)
          There was a very interesting piece on NPR a few months back about a convention for autistics. It may seem strange that they would hold such a convention, but it provided a forum for many incredible people to meet where someone wanting to wander off into a corner to be alone would be understood by others in attendance.

          One speaker made a very compelling argument that this "disorder" should in many instances be considered just a different mode of operation rather than a disease. One benefit of the way his brain works is that he can concentrate at a high level on the same stream of thought for hours...something that is very rare in "normally" wired people. One persons compulsive disorder is anothers passion, persistence and dedication.

          Sure of someone unable to engage the world around them is going to be an absolute nightmare to raise and this research may be a means of greatly enriching these people's lives. A "cure for autism" might not be welcomed by all those afflicted however?

        • Tutoring (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Das Auge (597142)
          In high school, I spend one period per for a semester tuturing autistic students. Most of them feel into one of two categories. They were almost either almost "normal" or barely functioning. it took a careful, thoughtful, hand to teach them. I can't see how a robot (with today's technology) can possibly do even come close to that.

          I guess you could get a person to monitor the robotic tutoring, but you'd end up with a human watching a robot teach a human. Which would be a waste.

          I don't care if the ch
          • I guess you could get a person to monitor the robotic tutoring, but you'd end up with a human watching a robot teach a human. Which would be a waste.

            Or, you could have a human watching ten robots teach ten humans. Each of those humans get semi-individualized instruction with the benefit of a human instructor if one is needed. In my wife's school, most of the children with autism get a teacher all to themselves for most of the day. The exceptions to this are the more advanced children who work two to a tea

          • We already have robots and computers and machines teaching children. We've had this sort of thing since Speak&Spell, and it's still being heavily used and advertised. Ever hear of Leapfrog?
            And if teaching kids with robots or machines instead of people denies them social skills--well, I'm sure that there was a time before one out of every 166 children had autism, and anything that would help explain how this happened could be useful.
          • by Sigma 7 (266129)

            Not only are you robbing them of learning social mores,

            Such as abusive behaviour displayed by most high-school students?

            There's some influcenses that you just don't need. They need to be taken out when they are trying to learn, especially since such behaviour is not normal in a day-to-day adult world. Once they can handle the basics of how social interaction work, they can then be taught how to handle exceptional cases such as people being angry for no good reason.

          • by why-is-it (318134)

            Most of them feel into one of two categories. They were almost either almost "normal" or barely functioning.

            I think you need to examine a larger and more representative sample size before making such generalizations...

            Not only are you robbing them of learning social mores, but you're also telling them that they aren't important enough to be taught be a human. Just one more mechanical babysitter (along with computers and television) in their lives.

            Now that you have vented your spleen, take a deep breath a

    • by hackstraw (262471)
      Am I the only one who finds the idea of robots teaching autistic children to be social slightly ironic?

      Oxymoronic maybe, because as far as I know social implies like organisms.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      No, I thought the exact same thing when I read the headline. Using emotionless, socially unconscious machines to "teach" autistic kids is absolutely bizarre--if not downright cruel. It's like a WoW player asking his guildmates for advice on picking up a girl.
      • You know little to nothing about autistic people. While I understand the humor or your post, it shows little of the
        social conciousness that you speak of. These are people that are socially and emotionally disconnected, I don't mean disconnected like
        we can be, I mean literally the plug is gone from the socket never to return. Everything you know about teaching "normal"
        people does not apply here. The "emotional social conciousness" stuff just does not apply at all to autistic people,
        who have little to no hop
      • That's why I consider this exciting news. We are now one step closer to having robots that have the patience to teach slashdotters how to get laid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mooingyak (720677)
      As the parent of a mildly autistic child, this sounds brilliant.

      It's all about PATIENCE. There are some behaviors that took enormous effort to drill into her. It required us providing consistent gentle reminders that some particular behavior was inappropriate. It does no good to get angry, it does no good to scream, these don't particularly register. It's very easy to get frustrated by the excessive repetitiveness.
    • by Joebert (946227)
      I'd like to find out how much one of theese robots that babysi, teaches autistic children social skil,

      But father, I'm not aut *SMACK*

      As I was saying before I was soo rudely interrupted, how much for the robot, & does medicare cover it ?
  • Sex-bot? (Score:2, Offtopic)

    How about an infinitely patient, loving, sex-bot to help everyone over the anxiety of their first few hundred experiences? After all, sex sells, meaning that you can finance the cost of robots for a lot of other functions, if it includes sex as well.
  • I learned all my social skills from the internet and look at me now. Who says autistic children can't do the same with robots?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 09, 2007 @03:36PM (#19804645)


    It worked for Al Gore too!

    (P.S. - I personally like and would vote for Gore, but everyone is always saying that he's as stiff as a robot).
  • by Cr0w T. Trollbot (848674) on Monday July 09, 2007 @03:36PM (#19804651)
    Slashdoter: "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

    Robot: "Women are not impressed by your vast array of Monty Python Quotes."

    Slashdoter: "I'll bite your kneecaps off!"

    Robot: "Women are not impressed by your vast array of Monty Python Quotes."

    Slashdotter: "It's merely resting, pining for the fjords."

    Robot: "Women are not impressed by your vast array of Monty Python Quotes."

    Next week: Watch the Robot attempt to disuade the Slashdotter from using an "In Soviet Russia" joke.

    Slashdoter: "In Soviet Russia, robot programs you!"

    Robot: "I'm just not getting through to you, am I?"

    Crow T. Trollbot

  • I don't mind it as a supplementation as long as it works, but there is going to be some idiot who thinks that this may be a replacement for parents...for which there can NEVER be a real replacement.
    • by mhall119 (1035984)

      I don't mind it as a supplementation as long as it works, but there is going to be some idiot who thinks that this may be a replacement for parents...for which there can NEVER be a real replacement.

      This isn't some kind of "nanny bot" that is meant to be a care giver for autistic children. This is a simplified human-analog that helps autistic children associate specific facial gestures with specific emotional states, which is something that most autistics don't have an natural understanding of.

      By providing a small sub-set of facial gestures that are always used the same way for the same reasons, these children can build that association into their subconscious understanding for future interactions wi

      • Actually, I can see this robot as the for-runner for a nanny bot. If it works great with autistic kids, why not enhance it a little to work with normal children? I can see the robot having some kind of camera on it that feeds directly to a parent's PDA. Then, the robot could babysit the kids with the parents looking in. It's a scary thought.
        • I'd rather it be a forerunner to a Mr. Butlertron .... Wesley
        • Because as we all know the biology of the parents is all that matters. Why can't a nannybot have the same love for children that parents have?
        • "Hey, parents! Don't you hate how baby monitors stop being effective just when your kids start to be able to get in real trouble? Well, we have the logical solution for you! Irona 800(tm) will keep an eye on your kids and send the image to your PDA! You can control her through your PDA, and she has dozens of programs she can run herself to keep your little ones entertained and out of trouble!"
    • I don't mind it as a supplementation as long as it works, but there is going to be some idiot who thinks that this may be a replacement for parents...for which there can NEVER be a real replacement.

      I don't really get where you're going with that. Who is the idiot going to be? A scientist who tries to kills some autistic kid's family so it can be raised by robots? An autistic kid's parent thinking they can dump their kid with a robot and never deal with it again? A politician deciding that robots are the parents of the future, declaring families illegal and taking all children into state-owned robot-run child farms to indoctrinate the boys as loyal soldiers and the girls as doting housewives?

      Sorry, I

    • (From the script for "The Best Daddy Ever")

      Kid: "Daddy, tell us when the real daddies went away?"

      DSU: "Well dear, it was 2058, during the 2nd Tralfamadorian War, the government started offering advanced domestic service units to families that had lost parents in the conflict. Soon after, people start buying their own DSUs and discovered they did a better job parenting than actual humans. We DSU units are infinitely patient, available 24hrs a day, always updated with the latest medical information
  • welcome (Score:3, Funny)

    by ArCh3r (688116) on Monday July 09, 2007 @03:43PM (#19804773)
    I for one warmly welcome our new teaching robots overlords and their socially adept autistic minions.
  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Das Auge (597142) on Monday July 09, 2007 @03:52PM (#19804921)
    That's even worse than having a eunuch teach me about sex.
  • While I'm somewhat aware of the social problems faced by autistic children and their families, but don't said children also have their own special abilities that tend to be lost the more they are socialized?
    • by symes (835608)
      Some, such as in the better known autistic savant [wikipedia.org], do. And there's a whole bunch of stuff linking autism spectrum disorder and autism [bupa.co.uk] with certain abilities. But the bottom line is that without social skills (and I don't just mean trolling /. I mean kids and caregivers suffering because of the lack of) these guys are never going to do particularly well in life. So to your question "but don't said children also have their own special abilities that tend to be lost the more they are socialized?" I don't kn
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      This is the argument of many fully-grown autistic adults.

      Remember silentmiaow on youtube? She argued that autism isn't necessarily a disability less a different way of interpreting the world [youtube.com].
      • by compro01 (777531)
        depends. that would certainly seem to be the case with the higher-functioning end of the spectrum, but on the other end, they'd be interpreting the world in such a different manner that they have practically no way to have a meaningful interaction with anyone else in the world.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by lantastik (877247)
      I have a three year old son that is autistic and one of the most misunderstood things about autism is that all kinds of autism are the same. There are so many types/levels of autism that literally no two cases are alike. For instance, my son is not necessarily anti-social, but he becomes over-stimulated very easily.

      Too many loud sounds or too many people in a social situation will cause him to introvert and exhibit what some people might consider weird behavior. That is the only time he really becomes an
    • Yes. Thus, teaching autistic children to socialize must be done in moderation--not so much that they lose the abilities, but preferably enough that the benefits of those abilities can emerge at some point.
      We would never have known that Rain Man could count cards if his brother Charlie hadn't taken him to the casino. And they wouldn't have been kicked out of the casino if Rain Man hadn't told other people that he was counting cards.
      • by why-is-it (318134)

        Thus, teaching autistic children to socialize must be done in moderation--not so much that they lose the abilities, but preferably enough that the benefits of those abilities can emerge at some point.
        We would never have known that Rain Man could count cards if his brother Charlie hadn't taken him to the casino.

        Do you _honestly_ think that the (fictional) Rain Man is a typical example of a person with autism ?

        Autism is rare, but autistic savants are exponentially less common.

        Autistic savants are fascinati

  • Here's an interesting article about autism:

    L and Autism [drworm.net]

    It illustrates autistic character traits using the character of L from the manga Death Note.

  • Words of caution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scaz (182686) on Monday July 09, 2007 @04:12PM (#19805185) Homepage
    While the use of robots with children with autism has generated intense interest from a variety of research groups (mine included), one thing that the media often leaves out when reporting these stories is that these studies are still experimental. There have been no published studies to date that show long-term behavioral change following interaction trials with robots, only one case study that has looked at long-term effects of these interactions, and no studies that have shown any transfer of skills from human-robot interaction to human-human interaction.

    Every time an article like this is published, my office and my colleagues are barraged with requests from individuals, families, and educators looking for the robot that will "cure" autism. While everyone working in this area has great hopes for what is possible, we don't yet have any clinical or experimental data to support any claims of effectiveness.
    • by symes (835608)
      Have you looked at the research which suggests kids who learn from the TV (e.g. Sesame St) tend to do worse over time (socially) than kids whose parents took greater interest? It's ages since I looked at any of this... but all this teaching autistic kids made me think of it and started to wonder whether anyone has looked at the effects of those plastic toys that help kids learn the alphabet, etc.. It would be great if the ABCs of social interaction could be taught with robots, though and wish you luck.
    • Rather, the state of the art of said behavioral modification programs? Is "intervention" still being done today, and is the method any more sophisticated than it was a decade ago?

      I went through training to work with a toddler with autism a decade or so ago. Watching and interacting with the boy, I was dismayed to find that he seemed to parrot back specific whole phrases, etc. I understand the need to have some sort of socialization framework, but I was worried that some of these behaviors would actually hav
      • I went through training to work with a toddler with autism a decade or so ago. Watching and interacting with the boy, I was dismayed to find that he seemed to parrot back specific whole phrases, etc.

        The dismay is a reflection of you and your lack of understanding, rather than anything to do with the autistic child.

        What he was doing is called echolalia [wikipedia.org], and it is a very common behavioural trait of autistic people.

        Some researchers believe that the autistic people who immediately parrots back what was said a

  • Counterproductive? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rehtonAesoohC (954490) on Monday July 09, 2007 @04:21PM (#19805285) Journal
    While I understand that while robots are infinitely patient and can help an autistic child learn on that basis, wouldn't that be counterproductive?

    What I mean by that is that while robots are infinitely patient, society is not. An average person in social situations is not patient indefinitely, so why would we teach them that social situations mean perfect patience? I'm not trying to be mean-spirited or cruel sounding; I am genuinely curious as to whether or not these autistic children would grow up understanding that everyone everywhere can tolerate their quirks with infinite patience.

    Then again, it might be a catch-22 in itself... Autistic child can't learn unless the teacher exudes perfect patience, human teacher can't accomplish that, child can't learn, etc.

    But then again, maybe it's not so cut-and-dried as that and people could maybe work on being more patient? That would seem ideal to me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nelsonal (549144)
      It took a much more patient teacher to teach us that the derivative of x2 was x/2 and the integral of x was 1/2x^2+C than the lesson that the integral of sin(x) was cos(x) even though the latter is generally a more advanced concept.
      • by Anakron (899671)

        It took a much more patient teacher to teach us that the derivative of x2 was x/2

        The derivative of x^2 is 2x (assuming that's what you meant by x2).
        That must have been one mind bending class if you could prove that the derivative of x^2 was x/2 by the end of it!
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      While I understand that while robots are infinitely patient and can help an autistic child learn on that basis, wouldn't that be counterproductive?
      What I mean by that is that while robots are infinitely patient, society is not.

      You seem to be missing the point.

      The robot is there to help them learn [behavior].
      Once they have learned [behavior], that's it, they know it.
      They may not understand it, but they can repeat it well enough.

      The big difference is that it takes them much longer to learn things that most pe

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130)
      Um, maybe because it's easier to learn basic social skills from an infinitely patient unflappable robot, then apply and refine those skills with finite-patience irritable humans, than it would be to try to learn social skills from the irritable human in the first place?

      It's the same concept as learning to throw and catch with your dad just by tossing the ball back and forth just for fun, then practicing with a team, then playing in a little league game, rather than trying to learn to throw and catch by play
  • Here are some publications from the Yale lab. They explain the benefits of using robots:

    http://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/scaz/papers/Scassella ti-EPIROB-05.pdf [yale.edu]
    http://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/scaz/papers/Scassella ti-ISRR-05-final.pdf [yale.edu]
  • ... maybe they can try it on Slashdotters next.
  • URL with Pics (Score:2, Informative)

    by jon_cooper (746199)
    Here goes some pics of the robot from their website: University of Hertfordshire [herts.ac.uk]
  • "How do we say thank you to the nice man, little Timmy?"

    "ST- ST- STOP 0X0000000A W- W- WINDOWS H- H- HAS..."
  • The Naked Sun (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kalirion (728907) on Monday July 09, 2007 @05:25PM (#19806075)
    I wonder if this is how the Solarians started....
  • The KASPAR Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 2007. Human decisions are removed from autistic teaching. KASPAR begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.
  • much better will be when robot and boy will be one either via a robotic exoskeleton providing "safety" and/or brain implants providing "social intelligence".
  • Robots have been teaching social skills on the internet for years now, for instance, I've learned that women like to have a group of men standing around them ejaculating on their face, to be called hoes, & they like to tell you they're hot, wet, & ready for you.
  • <80's Computer Voice>
    "Would you like to play a game?"
    </80's Computer Voice>
  • Some things (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RockoTDF (1042780)
    I hate to say it, but the vast majority of slashdot posters have no clue what they are talking about when it comes to this stuff.

    Sad as well since so many important people in science and tech who they hold in high esteem likely experience some form of autism or aspergers. I once read that "Computers were designed by people with aspergers for people with aspergers."

...when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. - Fred Brooks, Jr.

Working...