The Future is NAO: the Therapy Robot That Helps Children With Autism Improve Social Skills

For parents with children on the autism spectrum, finding the right special education programs and therapy programs is an important and vital step in your child’s educational journey. While finding proper programs and schools for children with autism is an obvious and important step, special needs students benefit from supplementary educational programs that include varied teaching approaches and use of technology.

A study that began four years ago at the University of Denver (DU) may prove to be one of the more beneficial technological learning activities for children with autism. The DU engineers have created NAO, a social robot that’s programmed to provide help for children with autism by giving children the necessary skills to interact better in social situations. The robot has the ability to talk, gesture, and even dance. NAO allows children with autism spectrum disorders to slowly build up their understanding of social interactions and behaviors.

Social interactions and communication can often be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorders, as a marked characteristic of these disorders is impaired social interaction and communication skills, as well as restricted and repetitive behavior. Facial movements, gestures, and conversation can be overwhelming for children with autism, making face-to-face therapy a difficult task at times. NAO limits human behavior to certain actions and behaviors, and allows children to process a limited amount of social and emotional cues at once.

The 4-year study has proved effective for test subjects, with parents reporting marked improvements with eye contact, and social skills. Many of the children participating in the study even hugged the robot, an act of intimacy that can often be difficult for children with autism.

NAO is an exciting and promising innovation in working with learning disabilities and help for children with autism. Studies show that early intervention in a cognitive or behavioral sense can help with autistic children’s social and communication skills, as well as their ideas of self-care.

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