Autism Spectrum Disorder impacts an ever increasing number of children. The disorder is marked by social functioning that is characterized by impairment in the use of nonverbal behaviors, failure to develop appropriate peer relationships and lack of social and emotional exchanges. Providing early intervention through the modality of play therapy has been effective in improving behavioral and social outcomes for children with autism. Interacting with humanoid robots that provide simple emotional response and interaction has been shown to improve the communication skills of autistic children. In particular, early intervention and continuous care provide signicantly better outcomes. Currently, there are no robots capable of meeting these requirements that are both low-cost and available to families of autistic children for inhome use. We are piloting the use of robotics as an improved diagnostic and early intervention tool for autistic children that is affordable, non-threatening, durable, and capable of interacting with an autistic child.
The Penguin for Autism Behavioral Interventions - PABI (© Dickstein-Fischer) was conceived by Dr. Laurie Dickstein-Fischer, now at Salem State University, and co-developed in the WPI Automation and Interventional Medicine Lab. This robotic system will help children socialize and assist in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. The cartoon-like embodiment will look at children, make facial expression and utterances, track eye contact, and stimulate a social response. PABI is small enough in size that the child can hold it, creating a physical connection which may enhance feelings of affection toward the robot, prolonging the child's interest in it. The modest size allows for easy transportation of the robot to increase generalization of social skills across settings. The ability of the robot to monitor gaze and social cues may provide diagnostic utility. The robot can be used as an autonomously acting "toy" to interact with or in semi-autonomous remote control mode where a clinician can control the robot's motions while receiving video and audio streams.
WPI Project Supervisor
Clinical Lead Investigator