Robots to Help Autistic Children

Many children on the autism spectrum respond positively to robots, and are able to interact with socially assistive robots which could possibly improve the social behaviors of children with autism and help them to learn.

Socially assistive robots is a new field where robots are applied to assisting users through social rather than physical interaction. The technology is used to provide emotional cognitive, and social help to encourage development, learning, or therapy.

Clinicians and families struggle to provide individualized education services for children with social and cognitive difficulties. This research will work to support children with socially assistive robots that are customized to each child’s individual needs so the children will be led toward long-term behavioral goals.

The research with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), PI Roboticist Maja Mataric, and a team at the University of California’s Viterbi School of Engineering, and Brian Scassellati Lead Investigator at Yale, are continuing to study how robots can be used to encourage social, emotional, and cognitive growth in children including those with social or cognitive deficits.

The NSF research project titled “Collaborative Research: Socially Assistive Robots” with $2,583,000 awarded so far, will enable the team to develop computational techniques to design, implement, and evaluate robots that perhaps will be able to encourage social and cognitive growth in children with autism spectrum disorder.

To achieve this goal, the research will advance the state-of-the-art in socially assistive human-robot interactions by:

  • Developing computational models of the dynamics of social interaction
  • Developing machine learning algorithms that will be able to adapt and personalize interactions to individual physical, social, and cognitive differences
  • Developing systems that will guide children toward specific learning goals over periods of weeks and months


Research in these three areas will be integrated into socially assistive robots that will be deployed in schools and homes for the duration of up to one year.

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