Robotic therapist helps Autistic kids - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Robotic therapist helps Autistic kids

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FLINT (WJRT) -

(06/20/13) - Robots may make better therapists than humans for some Autistic children. They are actually called "humanoids", and these robots are getting and keeping kids' attention.      

With glowing eyes and a high-tech voice, a robot grabs the attention of Robbie Pruitt. Robbie is Autistic. Researchers at Vanderbilt University are using the robot to teach him how to focus on people and objects in his environment.  

"Try to get a kid to clean up when he can't pay attention to what's on the floor. It's difficult," says Robbie's mother, Sabrina.

Dr. Zachary Warren, of Vanderbilt University, says kids with Autism seem to be drawn to technology, so robots could be key in teaching social interaction, "children with autism are spending much more time looking at the robot than they would be a human counterpart."

The robot directs Robbie to look at a wall monitor. Smart sensors detect whether Robbie follows a prompt. If he does, he is rewarded with a video.    

The robot also directs Robbie's gaze by pointing.

"We've seen that the children are responding very accurately to the robot prompt," Warren says.

It is exhausting work, but Robbie's parents say his interaction skills are improving.      

In a study published this year, researchers found that children with Autism paid more attention to the robot than the human therapist and followed its instructions almost as well. Robots could actually ease the workload of Autism therapists.

A new study will focus on whether robots are a cost-effective way to accelerate other learning skills as well.

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