A robot has been developed to teach children with autism about social interactions, and in some cases it has proven more successful than human therapists.
Experts have long known that children with autism can find it difficult to talk with or even look directly at therapists, but they often readily engage with technology. The developers of “Milo,” a two-foot-tall, partially plastic robot, decided to turn that into an advantage.
Pamela Rollins, an expert in communications disorders, developed the robot in conjunction with a company called Robokind. The Milo robot has a cartoonish, humanoid face, so he can demonstrate communication skills like facial expressions. One reason that is can be difficult for children with autism to learn social skills is that they may avoid looking directly at people. Rollins said that she found that children with autism engaged with Milo 87 percent of the time, and with a human therapist only three percent of the time.
Rollins said that children with autism need repetition, and the robot can repeat phrases and expressions over and over in the exact same way, speaking about 25 percent slower than the average person, without getting frustrated or introducing emotions that do not have to do with the exercise.
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