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Socially-Assistive Robots Help Children With Autism Learn Imitative Behavior by Providing Personalized Encouragement

By USC News

September 5, 2014

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University of Southern California (USC) researchers recently conducted a pilot study on the effects of using humanoid robots to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) practice imitation behavior in order to encourage their autonomy.

"There is a vast healthcare need that can be aided by intelligent machines capable of helping people of all ages to be less lonely, to do rehabilitative exercises, and to learn social behaviors," says USC professor Maja Mataric.

The researchers studied how children with ASD react to humanoid robots that provide graded cueing, an occupational therapy technique that guides behavior by providing increasingly specific cues to help a person learn new or lost skills. "In this study, we used graded cueing to develop the social skill of imitation through the copycat game," says USC's Jillian Greczek.

The researchers found children who received the varied prompting until the correct action was achieved showed improved or maintained performance, while children who did not receive graded cueing regressed or stayed the same. The results show the technique could be used to improve autonomy through robot-mediated intervention. "The idea is to eventually give every child a personalized robot dedicated to providing motivation and praise and nudges toward more integration," Mataric says.

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