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Research Shows Robots Enhance Learning for ASD Students

Veteran autism expert Dr. Pamela Rollins recently discussed her research on humanoid robots acting as educational aids for children on the autism disorder spectrum at a National Press Club Newsmakers conference event. Her early results show that humanoid robots—specifically RoboKind’s Milo and its Robots4Autism curriculum—help with with emotional-social development within a learning environment and enhance the learning experience of students with ASD overall.  

Rollins has over 30 years over working with autistic children. She's conducts research, works in a clinical practice and is an educator. She has become one of the top authorities on autism therapy while acting as an associate professor of Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas. She also teaches graduate courses on ASD assessment and treatment of children at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders. 

“I am looking to understand what specific features of the robot-child interaction facilitate social understanding in children with ASD. This will allow me  to optimize how I write Milo-assisted intervention,” Rollins told Education World. “We need to understand why some children with ASD show more engagement to Milo than others because engagement equals learning.” 

Her hypothesis was that children with ASD would be more engaged with both with a therapist and Milo, and Milo one on one, in the student-led groups. In this case, the child gave Milo instructions by selecting an action from a tablet opposed to the humanoid robot instructing the child. Her research evaluated children’s interactions with social humanoid robots, and then compared them to equal interactions with human counterparts as instructors. Her results showed more engaged children, with children on the spectrum better identifying emotions, interacting better, and churning out better results when compared to their prior learning process. 

“We used a follow the leader type task. My finding differed from my hypothesis,” said Rollins. 

Rollins used two groups. One minimally verbal, low performing group and one fluent, highly verbal group. 

“I coded the video tapes for engagement to robot, engagement to therapist and disengaged to on-fourth second precision. Because of the small sample size, we used Cohen’s d, a standardized measure of effect size that is not influence by sample size like p –values, to analyze the data,” Rollins explained. 

In her results, Rollins found that “the higher functioning children had more engagement with the robot compared to lower functioning children in the both conditions. While lower functioning children did not differ by condition, higher functioning children were moderately more engaged with the robot in the robot led condition.”

“When they were not engaged with the robot they tended to be disengaged” said Rollins. 

Rollins found that the lower functioning children didn’t differ across conditions, while the higher functioning children showed more disengagement in the student-led condition. She highlighted that it’s a “large effect.”   

“These results are good news for children with ASD.  Milo uses the EBPs (evidence-based practice) of social stories, visual supports and video modeling where Milo is describes relevant social information in simple clear language using a core vocabulary to teach social skill,” said Rollins. “Our research found that children with ASD are more engage with Milo than with the therapist especially when Milo was instructing them. And we know children who engaged learn better. Because engagement equals learning.”

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Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor

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