If you have ever attended a school, you probably can easily recall how hard it is to concentrate and study in those moments when your crush has just winked at you or when sun starts to shine brightly outside the window. But most of the days probably it is quite bearable for you to focus your attention on the material provided and learn what you are supposed to. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) not only concentrating on the learning material but keeping an eye contact or interacting with others can be extremely challenging. Nevertheless, decades of research and Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools which are currently being developed show that these challenges might be overcome.
Most common difficulties for children with autism are establishing an eye contact and expressing their emotions. However, the biggest impediment to the treatment of these difficulties is a hardship to build a relationship with an autistic child. To address these issues, researchers from Tec de Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education have developed an artificially intelligent robot. The TecO robot stands at 50 centimetres tall and has the face and body of a cartoon bear. The robot record the signals from a child and translates that into information which can be later analyzed by a neurologist or psychologist. The purpose of this robot is to make a child to notice him and establish an eye contact without raising the child’s anxiety level. TecO is a simple robot but because it is static, predictable and emotionless it is easier for an autistic child to maintain a relationship with it. The robot observes a child and if he starts to lose an interest, the robot can make a sound or movement to regain the attention. The cameras record the number of times a child makes an eye contact with the robotic bear and it allows quantitatively measure the progress of that child. Researchers claim that improvements can be noticed in less than couple of months.
Some more similar robots such as Bandit which can also move and modify its motion in response to a child’s behaviour, or Darwin-OP2 which can play soccer and dance, are under development. The robots will allow to record all the sessions and track children’s progress. Even though robotic machines are not known for their warmth, there is an increasing evidence that kids with autistic disorders respond more naturally to machines than they do to people because machines are simply more predictable than humans. It is expected that in the future these humanoid robots will act as both therapists and playmates and will help autistic children to become more socially engaging. In addition to that, robots will provide a possibility of a constant repetition of social interactions which is relevant for ensuring durability of learned social skills and constant data collection which is necessary for tracking the development progress.
Another highly common difficulty faced by people with ASD is recognition of social cues. To tackle this issue Stanford researchers are building a system on top of Google Glasses which is supposed to provide explanation of facial emotions in real time. A person wearing the glasses can read the definitions of emotions on a glass’s heads-up display. Faced emotions and responses are recorded and can be later analyzed together with a therapist. It allows a person to learn to recognize emotions at the present time and practice to act accordingly. The tool is supposed to decrease the level of anxiety usually experienced by people with ASD when they have to socially interact
ASD can be associated with intellectual disability. Nonetheless, about 40 percent of the children with ASD have average to above average intellectual abilities. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music and math. Therefore it is important to recognize the skills possessed by these children, help them to develop them further and provide them with a possibility to lead as independent life as possible. Recently a couple of apps were developed by a company named Identifor. The first of them is a new artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant, named Companion. The app includes a virtual assistant called Abby which helps people with ASD to organize their lives when they relatives cannot be around. The virtual assistant uses AI to learn the routines of users and keep their work, school, and social life on track. The second app, Identifor games, provides different types of games and helps to identify the talents of game players. The results of games played can be used as a basis for the identification of children interests and abilities, and serve as a first step to direct children attention towards a more systematic development.
The benefits of AI tools are quite promising. The further development of the above listed tools as well as the invention of new AI-powered machines will help to address different ASD symptoms and varying educational needs. The collected data by the machines during the interventions with kids will provide scientific community with enormous amount of valuable data in the research of development disorders and autistic behaviours. Finally, AI tools, used as a compliment to the regular therapy, will be able to assist teachers, psychologists, and parents in helping the children with autistic disorders to become more comfortable in this world – by engaging with the people surrounding them, expressing their own emotions and finally by finding ways to reveal the talents possessed.