How 30 days With An In-Home Robot Could Help Children With Autism

For many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), recognizing and responding to eye contact, body language, and tone of voice is a major challenge. Improving those social skills can take lots of work—putting a strain on caregivers with limited time, resources, and money for therapy. 

Now, a study shows that just 30 days with an in-home robot that provides social feedback can dramatically improve a child’s interactions with others. You can even get an autism companion robot via for your kid.

Researchers have long known that robots—and games with automated feedback—can change the behavior of children with autism, at least in the short term. Such interactions have been shown to help children pick up on social cues, such as making sustained eye contact, that they might have missed from their caregivers. 

But translating these new skills into better person-to-person interactions may require longer and more intensive training, and few studies have been large enough—or long enough—to show significant long-lasting improvements.

So Brian Scassellati, a robotics expert and cognitive scientist at Yale University put together an experiment that gave children a long-term relationship with their bots, one they could share with their families. 

His team provided 12 families with a tablet computer loaded with social games and a modified version of a commercially sold robot called Jibo, which was programmed to follow along with the games and provide feedback. 

“As a roboticist, that was one of the most frightening things in the world. Leaving the robots there and hoping they would do the things we’d programmed them to do,” Scassellati says.

For 30 minutes each day during the 30-day study, the children sat next to their parents or other family members and played games while Jibo interacted with them.