Thursday, October 28, 2010
Clinic Notes: Autism and Robots
Children with autism have problems understanding where to look. They often do not make eye contact and often do not look where others are looking. ABA programs for establishing eye contact are usually the first thing we do in the clinic and these programs work well. But getting a child to look where others are looking can be more difficult. A recent study by psychologist Andrew Meltzoff and his associates at the University of Washington let 18 month-old infants play with toys. Then a screen hiding a robot was removed. Half of the children observed an adult talking to the robot and play a game with it while half sat the adult not pay attention to the robot. Then the adult left the room, the robot beeped, and turned its head toward a toy. The children in the group that had seen the adult interact with the robot were four times more likely to look at the toy the robot was looking at. The children in this study were normally developing, but perhaps in the studies that are developing "robot therapies" for children with autism observing a little human-robot interaction could be important.