Can Social Interaction Skills Be Taught by a Social Agent? The Role of a Robotic Mediator in Autism Therapy
Increasingly socially intelligent agents (software or robotic) are used in education, rehabilitation and therapy. This paper discusses the role of inter-active, mobile robots as social mediators in the particular domain of autism therapy. This research is part of the project AURORA that studies how mobile robots can be used to teach children with autism basic interaction skills that are important in social interactions among humans. Results from a particular series of trials involving pairs of two children and a mobile robot are described. The results show that the scenario with pairs of children and a robot creates a very interesting social context which gives rise to a variety of different social and non-social interaction patterns, demonstrating the specific problems but also abilities of children with autism in social interactions. Future work will include a closer analysis of interactional structure in human-human and robot-human interaction. We outline a particular framework that we are investigating.