image 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?