A diverse, Vanderbilt University based, team of engineers, therapists, and autism authorities have developed an evolutionary therapy system to aid the social and learning skills of kids with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disease). What sets this system apart from other forms of ASD therapy is the fact that it utilizes robotics and advanced AI.
With the advanced humanoid robot (named NAO) and an intricate system of sensors, cameras and computers, children are encouraged to focus and control their attention with objects and other people. NAO and his supporting systems are specifically designed to strengthen “joint attention.” While joint attention is typically developed naturally, children with ASD often have difficulty with joint attention proficiency and is often dealt with in autism support groups or therapy sessions. Addressing his joint attention breakdown is of utmost importance, as it can compound into a plethora of social and learning difficulties if untreated as time goes on.
In the March issue of IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, the Vanderbilt University researchers reported that children with ASD who participated in therapy with NAO, paid more attention to the robot and followed its instructions better than they did those of a human therapist in the same standard exercises.
This research demonstrates the importance of integrating robotics into a necessary response to the “public health emergency” that is the rapid growth of ASD diagnosed children.
"This is the first real world test of whether intelligent adaptive systems can make an impact on autism," stated Zachary Warren, director of the Treatment and Research Institute for ASD at Vanderbilt University.
Zachary aims for the NAO system to be utilized as “accelerant technology” which augments the rate in which ASD diagnosed children develop the learning and social skills that are necessary healthy development. Only encouraged by the massive success of the current study, Warren and company have developed more autism early-intervention systems that will help children learning, sharing and role playing utilizing robotics.