Robotic assistants in therapy and education of children with autism: Can a small humanoid robot help encourage social interaction skills?
This article presents a longitudinal study with four children with autism, who were exposed to a humanoid robot over a period of several months. The longitudinal approach allowed the children time to explore the space of robot– human, as well as human–human interaction. Based on the video material documenting the interactions, a quantitative and qualitative analysis was conducted. The quantitative analysis showed an increase in duration of pre-defined behaviours towards the later trials. A qualitative analysis of the video data, observing the children’s activities in their interactional context, revealed further aspects of social interaction skills (imitation, turn-taking and role- switch) and communicative competence that the children showed. The results clearly demonstrate the need for, and benefits of, long-term studies in order to reveal the full potential of robots in the therapy and education of children with autism.