Robots as social mediators for children with Autism : A preliminary analysis comparing two different robotic platforms
Robots can be very helpful therapeutic tools, especially for children with special needs. In the present paper we describe the application of two robotic platforms with different design parameters in interaction with children with autism and other cognitive impairments. IROMEC is a mobile robotic platform designed for children with different levels of disabilities to encourage them to be engaged in social interactions. KASPAR is a humanoid child-size robot designed for social interaction. KASPAR has been used extensively in studies with children with autism. The aim of this study is to examine how KASPAR and IROMEC can support social interaction and facilitate the cognitive and social development of children with special needs via play activities. Natural engagement in social play behaviour is often a problem in the development of children with disabilities. Due to the nature of their disabilities they are often excluded from such activities. As part of a long-term study we carried out different play scenarios based on imitation, turn taking and the cause and effect game according to the main educational and therapeutic objectives considered important for child development. In this paper we focus on the turn taking and the imitation game scenarios. A preliminary analysis of the data showed encouraging results. The level of the improvement of the children depended on the level and nature of their disabilities.