Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Robots for Autism?

autism, difference, doctors, robots, Today show, videoimage from Wikimedia commons

My mother-in-law pointed me to the Today show this morning as they were airing a story on the use of robots to help autistic children develop social skills. I can certainly see some exciting applications here. The kids in the studies seemed to show a significant increase in interactions when working with the robots. But then I heard words like, "humanoid robots" and one engineer spoke about robots that could understand how the child was feeling (to a whopping 80% accuracy) by hooking the child up to certain types of sensors. I'm sure I've been watching too many movies, but smart computers always make me think of Terminator or Artificial Intelligence: AI, both great movies, but scary in terms of technology going a little too far.

I'm on the fence right now, but I'll let you determine what you think for yourself:

I'm further wondering what happens to the kids on the spectrum who have no interest in electronics or robots? Also, I think the statement that got under my skin the most was toward the end when Nancy Snyderman commented that for kids who are on the higher functioning end of the spectrum, the use of these robots "may be the key to get a child mainstreamed." I wonder when we are going to accept these individuals as different and stop insisting that they behave like everyone else? Is it so much to ask that society meet them at least halfway?

Does it sound like robots might be incredibly useful in helping autistic kids to express their needs and feelings so that others can more understand them? Sure, and I think that would be a great thing. But it doesn't seem that these technological advances will do much to help autistics gain acceptance as they are. It seems to me like more squeezing the round peg into the square hole, just with more refined tools.

I'm quite internally divided over this and I will readily admit that I may be overreacting to this story. Is this extensive use of robotics a good thing for people with autism? What do you think?


  1. It's tech day, isn't it? I do cloning, you do robots...

    I'm on the fence, too. In some ways, it seems like the robots are doing something good, and if it helps the round/square problem, well, the world does have this majority-rules system going, and life sure is easier if you can pretend to fit with the majority. On the other hand, that doesn't mean I have to like majority-rules. Particularly when it means I'd have to go and change something about myself... Hmm.

  2. My feeling on this is that if it helps just one child, then Im all for it. There will never be one answer thats fits all. Some kids it might work for, others it might not. But thats just how I see things. I think of the 'starfish' story. So if it works for just one child, then it will be worth it.

    As for the comment, i agree, i hate the term 'mainstream'. I think if we just accept peoples differences we would live in a much more tolerant world (My own experiece included in this)

    I know with my kids, the goal is always to 'mainstream'....which means if there not mainstreamed, then it implies that there something wrong with them, and I dont think there is anything wrong with them, they are who they are.

    Mainstream to me, means finding the right 'class' where the child fits in. I know if I went to a 'special needs class', I would not feel comfortable. So whos not being mainstreamed, me or my son? If my son is in a class with others like himself, then he is 'mainstreamed' and Im not.

    not sure if this makes any sence at all, but i understand your passion of folks trying to put everyone in this little circle when some of us are just 'squares' and there really isnt anything wrong with squares. Just because the squares cant fit in the circle, doesnt mean there is anything wrong, becuase if you look at it, if they fill that way, then if the circles cant fit into the square holes, then there must be something wrong with the circles too.

    sorry for my sure none of this makes any

  3. oh, thanks for posting this, i didnt see it.


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