The use of social robots with children and young people on the autism spectrum: A systematic review and meta-analysis
Laws, Keith R.
Mengoni, Silvana E.
Background: Robot-mediated interventions show promise in supporting the development of children on the autism spectrum. Objectives: In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we summarize key features of available evidence on robot-interventions for children and young people on the autism spectrum aged up to 18 years old, as well as consider their efficacy for specific domains of learning. Data sources: PubMed, Scopus, EBSCOhost, Google Scholar, Cochrane Library, ACM Digital Library, and IEEE Xplore. Grey literature was also searched using PsycExtra, OpenGrey, British Library EThOS, and the British Library Catalogue. Databases were searched from inception until April (6th) 2021. Synthesis methods: Searches undertaken across seven databases yielded 2145 articles. Forty studies met our review inclusion criteria of which 17 were randomized control trials. The methodological quality of studies was conducted with the Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies. A narrative synthesis summarised the findings. A meta-analysis was conducted with 12 RCTs. Results: Most interventions used humanoid (67%) robotic platforms, were predominantly based in clinics (37%) followed home, schools and laboratory (17% respectively) environments and targeted at improving social and communication skills (77%). Focusing on the most common outcomes, a random effects meta-analysis of RCTs showed that robot-mediated interventions significantly improved social functioning (g = 0.35 [95%CI 0.09 to 0.61; k = 7). By contrast, robots did not improve emotional (g = 0.63 [95%CI -1.43 to 2.69]; k = 2) or motor outcomes (g = -0.10 [95%CI -1.08 to 0.89]; k = 3), but the numbers of trials were very small. Meta-regression revealed that age accounted for almost one-third of the variance in effect sizes, with greater benefits being found in younger children. Conclusions: Overall, our findings support the use of robot-mediated interventions for autistic children and youth, and we propose several recommendations for future research to aid learning and enhance implementation in everyday settings. PROSPERO registration: Our methods were preregistered in the PROSPERO database (CRD42019148981).