Using a Humanoid Robot to Elicit Body Awareness and Appropriate Physical Interaction in Children with Autism
In this article we describe a human–robot interaction study, focusing on tactile aspects of interaction, in which children with autism interacted with the child-like humanoid robot KASPAR. KASPAR was equipped with touch sensors in order to be able to distinguish gentle from harsh touch, and to respond accordingly. The study investigated a novel scenario for robot-assisted play, with the goal to increase body awareness of children with autism spectrum condition (hereafter ASC) by teaching them how to identify human body parts, and to promote a triadic relationship between the child, the robot and the experimenter. Data obtained from the video analysis of the experimental sessions showed that children treated KASPAR as an object of shared attention with the experimenter, and performed more gentle touches on the robot along the sessions. The children also learned to identify body parts. The study showed the potential that teaching children with autism about body parts and appropriate physical interaction using a humanoid robot has, and highlighted the issues of scenario development, data collection and data analysis that will inform future studies.