A professor in Hong Kong has developed an educational programme which makes use of robots to help children with autism in improving their social skills. This has now been included in a government initiative adopted by several non-profit groups and schools in the country.
Called Robot for Autism Behavioral Intervention (RABI), it is aimed at helping children between the ages 3 and 18 in resolving issues common to their age group including conflicts and bullying. Since it was first developed by Catherine So, associate professor of educational psychology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it has been used by 1200 children with positive results.
“Children with autism usually lack the motivation to fulfill social obligations. They are also hypersensitive to the world around them. Robots can help them by reducing their anxiety,” explained So. She believes these robots can help in raising the overall quality of life of children who undergo the program by helping social inclusion of those with autism.
The robots are programmed to have verbal interactions with the children, involving several different role-plays. One child would be accompanied by two robots in a session. The two machines act out required social situations in front of the kids, helping them understand what behaviour is acceptable and what is unacceptable in each scenario. The is also a human coach who would put these newly acquired social skills to test.
The program has been adopted by more than 20 government funded NGOs and public schools in Hong Kong and Macau.