By: Kim Hyo-hye and Lee Ha-yeon
More than two out of 100 Korean children aged seven to 12 suffer from autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but the number would be much greater, given the lack of systematic care and social prejudice, which makes many of them struggle all their lives because they had not gotten a fast cure at an early age. Robots can be an answer to the problem especially in Korea where parents and children often deny and delay care as they are shy about psychiatric visits.
“Many children with ASD respond better to robots than to humans,” said Pamela R. Rollins, an associate professor and director of social communication lab at University of Texas at Dallas, in her interview with Maeil Business News. They are “more engaged” in communication when their therapist is a robot, she said.
Tests showed that children “increase their engagement and responsiveness, improve their ability to recognize emotions and talk more” with robots, according to Rollins. Such a result implies a robot could be an effective instrument to autism treatment, which inspired her research team to develop its first humanoid robot Milo R25.
Since autism requires enormous patience and money, the robot could be an easier and cheaper option to hospital care.
Milo R25 is “the only available robot with an integrated evidence based ASD curriculum,” said Rollins. It speaks slow and boasts a simple design with exaggerated facial features. It uses simplified language paired with visual icons to describe a social situation. By delivering lessons repeatedly, the robot describes verbal and nonverbal social behavior to a child in a reassuring, nonthreatening way, different from people who can easily get tired or frustrated.
New teaching program using the next therapist is already being piloted in 300 schools across the U.S. And surprisingly, one out of three with autism is showing improvement.
Also in Korea, the Korea Association for Infant Mental Health is reviewing the program to study the effectiveness of robot-mediated medical intervention. One out of 38, or 2.64 percent of Korean children aged 7 to 12 was shown to have ASD as of 2011, hovering much above the 1 percent rate in the U.S. and Europe.
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