Robots as Isolators or Mediators for Children with Autism A Cautionary Tale
The discussion presented in this paper is part of our investigation in the Aurora project into the potential use of robots as therapeutic or educational ‘toys’ specifically for use by children with autism. The paper raises some cautions concerning social isolation and stereotypical behaviour frequently exhibited in children with autism. We present some examples taken from trials with the robots where the children exhibit such behaviour, and discuss possible ways of ensuring not to reinforce stereotypical behaviour and a tendency to social isolation in the children. Especially, we point out an avenue of robots becoming social mediators (mediating contact between children and other children or adults). The paper exemplifies interaction where social behaviour was directed at the robot which raises awareness of the goal of the research, namely to help the children to increase their social interaction skills with other people and not simply create relationships with a ‘social’ robot which would isolate the children from other humans even further.