From Isolation to Communication : A Case Study Evaluation of Robot Assisted Play for Children with Autism with a Minimally Expressive Humanoid Robot
The general context of the work presented in this paper is assistive robotics with our long-term aim to support children with autism. This paper is part of the Aurora project that studies ways in which robotic systems can encourage basic communication and social interaction skills in children with autism. This paper investigates how a small minimally expressive humanoid robot KASPAR can assume the role of a social mediator - encouraging children with low functioning autism to interact with the robot, to break their isolation and importantly, to facilitate interaction with other people. The article provides a case study evaluation of segments of trials where three children with autism, who usually do not interact with other people in their day to day activity, interacted with the robot and with co-present adults. A preliminary observational analysis was undertaken which applied, in abbreviated form, certain principles from conversation analysis - notably attention to the context in which the target behaviour occurred. The analysis was conducted by a social psychologist with expertise in using conversation analysis to understand interactions involving persons with an ASD. The analysis emphasises aspects of embodiment and interaction kinesics and revealed unexpected competencies on the part of the children. It showed how the robot served as a salient object mediating and encouraging interaction between the children and co-present adults.