Parents cherish bedtime stories and games with their little ones, but children with autism can't always focus during those special times. Now, researchers are learning how robots could play a role in helping these kids learn how to pay attention.
With glowing eyes and a high-tech voice, a robot grabs Robbie Pruitt's attention.
Robbie has autism. Researchers are using the robot to teach him how to focus on people and objects in his environment.
“Try to get a kid to clean up when he can't pay attention to what's on the floor. It's difficult,” Sabrina Pruitt, Robbie’s mother.
Dr. Zachary Warren says the robot could be key in teaching social interaction to autistic kids.
"Children with autism are spending much more time looking at the robot than they would be a human counterpart,” said Dr. Warren.
The robot directs Robbie to look at a monitor. Sensors detect that Robbie followed the prompt, so he is rewarded with a video.
The robot also directs Robbie’s gaze.
"We’ve seen that the children are responding very accurately to the robot prompt,” Dr. Warren said.
Robbie’s parents say his interaction skills are improving.
In a study published this year, researchers found that children with autism paid more attention to the robot than the human therapist and followed its instructions almost as well.